A "Boo"tiful performance
MILWAUKEE, Wis.—The "boos" resonating throughout the Bradley Center crowd on Friday night were not the Wisconsin fans way of showing their discontent with the Badgers first-half performance, but cheers of approval for sophomore guard Boo Wade.
The Milwaukee native got the chance to come home and kept the Badgers in the game during Richmond's dominating first half. Wade knocked down 5 of 7 shots, including one 3-pointer, for 12 of the team's 25 points before halftime. The Spiders did, however, force Wade to turn the ball over four times.
Wade also stepped it up defensively to take on Richmond's leading scorer, Mike Skrocki. The senior guard drained two quick threes but missed his next five attempts from beyond the arc. Skrocki ended up with 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
"I thought he played very well," Badger head coach Bo Ryan said regarding Wade's performance. "Defensively, you can't blame him for the threes that Skrocki hit. He hit those threes early, and if you go by a game and by the statistics in a game and his overall defense, he had a great game, other than that cluster of turnovers."
Wade also stayed active during the second half. He went on to score four more points, including a wide open dunk off of a pass from junior guard Devin Harris and two from the charity stripe. With the 76-64 Badger victory, Wade ended up with a career-high 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting, with four assists, two steals, and five turnovers.
A little help from the bench
Things were not looking good for Wisconsin when its leader, junior guard Devin Harris, had a tally of zero points next to his name for nearly the first 30 minutes of play.
Fortunately for the Badgers, it is not a one-man show. During the second half, Harris finally found his first points, but more importantly, the bench came to the rescue. Junior forward Zach Morley, junior guard Clayton Hanson and sophomore forward Ray Nixon surged off the bench to bring the Badgers back into the game.
Nixon was the first to get things started. With 11 minutes and 56 seconds left, he drained a three to close the gap to 44-37. He then tallied two more to close out the Badgers 35-10 run by tipping in a missed shot by Morley. Nixon ended up with five points on 2 of 3 shooting, with two rebounds and one assist.
Next, Hanson stepped up to the plate for the Badgers. During three straight possessions, Wisconsin knocked down a 3-pointer and two of them came courtesy of Hanson. For his first, Harris found Hanson open in the corner and he drained it to finally put the Badgers on top 49-48. The next was very similar as Harris drove into the lane and then kicked it out to an open Hanson in the corner. His second trey solidified the lead at 55-50. In 19 minutes Hanson finished with seven points and two boards.
"They (Richmond) weren't going to let Devin get to the rim," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "They needed help and Nixon and Hanson hit a couple and that made all the difference in the world."
Finally, Morley kept the intensity on Wisconsin's side with his presence on the glass and offense during the second half. He grabbed nine boards and tallied nine points but it was his dunk with 3:04 left that brought the house down. Morley received a pass from Harris and went up for a two-handed slam over Richmond sophomore forward Jermaine Bucknor. Morley tabbed the two for the dunk and drew a foul from Bucknor, though he was called for a technical foul for taunting.
Though the bench proved essential in the victory, it was without sophomore forward Andreas Helmigk. There was no official statement regarding why he did not suit up but there was speculation that he was suffering from a bad back.
All in all the Badger bench prevailed and helped bring not only Harris but, the whole team and crowd back into the game.
"That hasn't been the first time, that's what is so good about this team," Harris said regarding the bench. "It's not a one man team. That's what we did today, I didn't have my shot, but I found some guys in transition and they finished."
A home away from home
Though Milwaukee is approximately 80 miles to the east of the Kohl Center, it was the next best thing to home for the Badgers on Friday. After winning 28 straight on the home court, Wisconsin found comfort in the Bradley Center during their victory over Richmond.
Normally, the Kohl Center is covered in a sea of red, and things were no different at the Bradley Center. A majority of the 18,866 fans were adorned in cardinal and white and gave the Badgers the home atmosphere that they have benefited from all season. For Milwaukee natives, junior guard Devin Harris, senior guard Freddie Owens, sophomore guard Boo Wade and sophomore forward Ray Nixon, the opening rounds at the Bradley Center were a perfect homecoming.
"It was a tremendous job by the fans," Harris said. "They carried us through the run Richmond made, and they helped through it all the way. I'm glad we came here, I don't think we could have done it anywhere else."
Though the crowd was on the Badgers' side, Richmond was not focused on it. The Spiders have done relatively well on the road this season with wins on the home courts of teams like Kansas and Colorado.
"I don't think the crowd really got to us," Richmond senior guard Mike Skrocki said. "Wisconsin's a good team. They got a good draw, they're playing at home. It's really going to benefit them for future games. Hopefully they can make a good run out of it, they're a good team."
Could the closeness to home help surge a run to the national championship? Last time the Badgers played close to home was when they faced Pittsburgh at the UW Field House in 1941. That was the year that the Badgers won their first and only NCAA championship. The Badgers will look to repeat history on Sunday when they take on none other than Pittsburgh at 3:45 p.m. at their adopted home this weekend, the Bradley Center.