The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team and its in-state competitor, UW-Milwaukee, missed more than their fair share of shots before the Badgers (6-2) came away with a 66-37 victory for their 33rd consecutive home win, tying a 99-year-old school record.
"We're embarrassed. We were totally overmatched," UW-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl said. "We're not built to beat Wisconsin. We tried to get the ball inside, we got the ball where we wanted it and then we just couldn't finish it. They were too big."
Sharif Chambliss, Wisconsin's senior point guard, led all scorers with 21 points, 13 coming in a first half when he carried the Badgers' scoring load and nearly single-handedly outscored UWM. Junior forward Joah Tucker paced the Panthers (6-2) with nine points.
Defense was the evening's calling card.
"I just give our guys credit for committing to the work," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I thought we were defensively beating them to spots."
Attribute part of the paltry outputs to poor shooting, however.
Wisconsin made just 5 of its first 22 shots and shot 29.6 percent in the first half, before picking it up in the second session and finishing 22 of 58 (37.9 percent). Milwaukee made just 3 of its first 16 attempts, shot 24 percent in the first half, 25.5 percent for the game, and had more turnovers (17) than field goals (14).
"We took a lot of the things away that they like to do," Pearl said. "It was really a function of our inability to score. I think that was the real difference in the game. They guarded us, they smothered us. I had no answers for how to score."
While each team struggled to hit shots, Wisconsin worked its way to the foul line, connecting on 15 of 21 attempts. Milwaukee, on the other hand, was 5-for-7 and did not make a single trip to the charity stripe in a 14-point first half.
"We just couldn't get ourselves on the foul line at all," Pearl said.
Size mattered. Wisconsin's front line was too strong for the Panthers, who start players 6-foot-5 (Tucker), 6-6 (James Wright) and 6-7 (Adam Tigert) in the front court.
"Clearly the things we try to do offensively don't match up well with Wisconsin's size," Pearl said. "They were just so much bigger than we were. I think tonight you could sort of see the difference in the levels of Division I play as it related to the size."
With less than five minutes to play in the first half, the Badgers had made only five field goals, but led 18-10.
Wisconsin extended its lead to 32-14 early in the second half, but the Panthers went on a 9-0 run to draw within 32-23 with 14:17 left to play. Freshman center Brian Butch, however, ended the Badgers' drought with his second 3-pointer of the game, propelling UW to a 7-0 run of its own. UW-Milwaukee never seriously challenged the rest of the way.
"We answered with a run of our own," Ryan said.
UW-Milwaukee failed to score after a pair of free throws with 5:14 left and did not make a field goal after Joah Tucker's layup at 7:29, turning a competitive 49-35 affair into a 66-37 rout, punctuated by Badger junior forward Ray Nixon's fast break dunk with eight seconds left.
"When they were trying to play from behind they didn't hit some of those shots," Ryan said. "Point differential to me has never meant anything. It doesn't always tell the story."
"We had to be patient. And we were patient but then at the end of patience we weren't making any shots," Pearl said. "Then the lead starts to grow and then you feel like you have to mix in a couple quick hitters. It gets worse rather than getting better."
UW-Milwaukee's inability to score kept them from using their various full-court press defenses, which flustered Wisconsin at times.
"If they can get the score, they get to put their press on, then who knows?" Ryan said.
The Panthers were held scoreless at the onset Wednesday until junior center Derrick Ford's dunk five minutes, 25 seconds into the first half, but trailed only 4-2 at that point, each team having made a single field goal.
"We were just playing great defense and we were playing hard….but how many empty trips can you make without feeling like, ‘Gosh, this is going to be difficult,'" Pearl said.
There were moments when the nearly uninterrupted first-half monotony was temporarily suspended. Butch hit an awkward shot in the paint six minutes into the game and followed with a 3-pointer 37 seconds later to give Wisconsin a 9-2 lead.
For long stretches of the first half, Chambliss provided the game's only offense. He scored Wisconsin's first four points and broke a three-minute, 40-second Badger scoreless streak with a driving bucket to make it 11-4, then added a triple 43 seconds later.
Wisconsin did not make another field goal for 4:38, adding only four Chambliss free throws to its tally before freshman guard Kammron Taylor hit a baseline jumper and a triple to give the Badgers a 23-14 lead with 3:14 left in the first half.
The Badgers led 25-14 at halftime, despite only a combined two points from their two leading scorers, forwards Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker. Wilkinson finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Tucker contributed 11 points and nine rebounds.