MILWAUKEE—What a difference a half makes. In Wisconsin's 76-64 victory over Richmond in the opening round of NCAA action, the Badgers seemingly put two different teams on the court.
Coming into Friday's matchup, Richmond and Wisconsin were often lauded for their defensive abilities. During the opening half, it was the Spiders who had a just little bit more.
Richmond used an array of players to contain Wisconsin junior guard Devin Harris. Senior guards Reggie Brown and Tony Dobbins took the longest turns as Harris' shadow but it was Dobbins who did the most defensive damage on the night. As the two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, he was able to send Harris into the locker room without a single point.
Besides shutting down Harris, Richmond was able to take Wisconsin out of its usually successful offense. The Badgers were held to only 25 points at the end of the half and went a shaky 9-for-24 from the field. They were able to outscore Richmond in the paint 10-6, but still had difficulty driving to the basket and finding a significant post presence.
"They were very active, have good wingspans, good timing," Badger head coach Bo Ryan said. "They're a good defensive team, they didn't give up that many points all season."
Coming out of the locker room for the second half Wisconsin had two very different fates lying ahead for them. The Badgers could have continued to succumb to Richmond's defense and dug an even deeper hole or they could overcome the pressure and put the momentum on their side. Lucky for Wisconsin and the thousands of boisterous Badger fans at the Bradley Center, the second half displayed the team's A-game that it had been waiting for all night.
Richmond junior guard Jamaal Scott, though, scored the first six points of the second half. Shortly after that, though, Wisconsin ripped off a 35-10 run. Junior forward Mike Wilkinson sparked the outburst with a quick five points. He worked the lane for two points in the paint to draw the Badgers within 42-31. Next possession, sophomore forward Ray Nixon kicked it out to Wilkinson at the top of the key and his 3-pointer brought UW within eight and raised the decibel level at the Bradley Center.
After going 2-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Badgers were able to drain six 3-pointers during the run. Two came courtesy of Wilkinson while two more came from junior guard Clayton Hanson. Wilkinson's trey with seven minutes, 15 seconds left put the Badgers on top 52-50 and they never climbed down from the top after that.
"We just started knocking down shots," Wilkinson said. "We had some good looks in the first half, but they didn't go down. We got the similar looks in the second half, and we were knocking those down, and I thought we fed off of that."
"I look at the game as a 40-minute game," Ryan said. "Offensively, we found answers by maintaining roles of things we try to do and were more aggressive with our attack, and that changed the whole game."