Wisconsin set the tempo early through the use of its dominating defense. Alabama (10-2) missed its first five shots and turned the ball over twice before tallying its first bucket at the 16-minute, 37-second mark.
"I think they guarded us well," Alabama junior forward Kennedy Winston said. "First half they kind of took us out of what we wanted to do, we rushed a lot of shots and our jump shots wasn't falling tonight, they play really good defense."
With the defense in place, Wisconsin was able to take advantage of Alabama's missed shot attempts early in the game. Of the Badgers' first nine points, senior forward Mike Wilkinson tallied seven including one of the team's 11 3-pointers on the night.
Wisconsin kept a slightly comfortable lead throughout the first half but Alabama was able to come within three points at two different occasions. With 5:21 remaining, Winston fired up a 3-pointer to put the score at 22-19. Wisconsin then turned the ball over on its next two possessions but the Crimson Tide failed to take advantage. Wisconsin senior guard Sharif Chambliss nailed another 3= pointer to then put the Badgers up 25-19. Alabama's junior forward Jean Felix hit another 3 and brought the score to 25-22. That would be the closest the Tide would get for the rest of the game.
The Badgers held Alabama to just one more point for the rest of the half and got a late offensive burst from junior forward Zach Morley. After a dish from sophomore forward Alando Tucker, Morley nailed a 3 at the 53 seconds mark and with the clock winding down in the half, he also hit a jumper to put the Badgers up 33-23 going into halftime.
"We really had a poor first half but I think you have to give their coaching staff credit for that," Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said. "That's what this game is all about, their preparation was good … we just got ourselves in a hole there that we wouldn't get out of."
At the start of the second half, Alabama began to find its rhythm in junior forward Chuck Davis. The 6-foot-7 post presence was held to only four points in the opening half but opened up the second half with 10 of the Tide's 12 points. Wisconsin tried to stop Davis by using a mix of players to guard him. Morley, Wilkinson, redshirt freshman Brian Butch, senior center Andreas Helmigk and even a mix of guards helped out with covering Davis.
"I was next," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said regarding the defenders he put on Davis. "I was going to hit him at the knee cap. The idea was not to let him catch it, work more at fronting him…and then get some strong help on the back side, make him make the tough lob."
Davis only tallied four more points on the night to finish with 18 and contributed seven rebounds. Though Wisconsin finally shut Davis down, Ryan was impressed with his skill down below.
"Davis is that good on how he spreads out and can get position on you," Ryan said. "He's as good as anyone we've ever played…he reminds me of how Kevin McHale got position because McHale was built the same way, wingspan about 7-foot-1, same height and when he got wide in the post, he's very difficult to keep from catching it and after he catches it, his shoulders are wide enough, he gets a good base, it's hard enough to get away from him…we cat and moused him a little bit and tried to tire him out."
After Davis made his run early in the half, Winston stepped in to try and keep Alabama in the game. He tallied eight straight points in the middle of the half and ended the night similar to Davis with 18 points and five boards.
These runs from Davis and Winston helped keep Alabama within eight or 10 points of the Badgers but then Tucker stepped in to add to the lead. On two consecutive possessions, he made 3-point plays after driving the lane, hitting his shot and getting fouled by the Tide. During the next possession, Tucker found Morley for the jumper and gave the Badgers their biggest lead of the game at 61-46.
Wisconsin still did not have complete control of the game. With one minute 34 seconds remaining, Chambliss fouled freshman guard Ronald Steele while he was going up for a three. Steele nailed all three free throws and put the Tide within 10 points. Alabama quickly fouled Wisconsin and tried to play catch-up but after Chambliss hit two free throws with 54 seconds left to expand the lead to 13, a victory for Alabama was out of the picture. In fitting fashion though, Wilkinson was forced to put up a shot as the shot clock was winding down in the closing seconds. He nailed an almost effortless three-pointer to close out the game and the Tide. The 62 point final tally for Alabama was the lowest they've scored all season and far away from their 86.5 average.
Offensively for the Badgers, the team tallied a 50 percent field goal percentage and went 50 percent from three point range. Wilkinson ended the night with 15 points, Morley added 13 and seven boards and Chambliss added another 11 and five assists. Once again though, it was Tucker who led the way for the Badgers. He has tallied 21 points in the two games prior to Alabama and did the same Wednesday but added seven rebounds and even five assists.
"When I penetrated I saw a lot of guys sagging off, these guys were telling me that I'll be able to move around and get open because they're sagging off…" Tucker said regarding his assist tally. "When I penetrated or posted up I definitely wanted to look for some open guys and that did contribute to the five assists that I do have."
Last season the Badgers did not have the luxury of playing Tucker and would have surely needed him in their 71-56 loss. A foot injury forced him to sit out the Alabama game and most of the season but both Alabama players and coaches noticed the difference that Tucker brought to the Wisconsin team this year.
"Last year they were more of a jump shooting team," Davis said. "I think Tucker gives them a little presence going to the hole. He's their best driver, he's a scorer, he can score off the dribble. Last year basically they were a pick and roll team, you know getting open shots and hit them…Tucker kind of gives them a one-on-one presence."
Much of the pick and roll from last year's game can be attributed to then guard Devin Harris. Though Harris is gone, Gottfried does not see that as such a disadvantage considering the addition of Tucker.
"I really like him as a player," Gottfried said regarding Tucker. "The thing that he's good for Wisconsin with him especially with Morley and Wilkinson, he becomes a tough matchup for your small forward or your power forward, either one of them. I thought [Harris] was as good of guard as we've played against … so it's kind of minus one plus one, they lost one but they gained a pretty good one too. [Tucker]'s got a great first step so he's hard to guard."
Another player that may not have contributed points wise but provided a major defensive effort was senior guard Clayton Hanson. His job was to guard Alabama's leading scorer, senior guard Earnest Shelton. Coming into Shelton's 100th career game, he was averaging 19.0 points per game and ended the night with a meager two points thanks to Hanson.
"It's just what we try to do with any shooter, you just have to stick to the rules, chase him, we were going over the top on everything so I just tried to stick to all the rules that we talked about during the week," Hanson said. "I had help from my teammates, I don't think it was a one man effort, obviously five guys were playing D. Mike picked up a charge on him, then he was less likely to put the ball on the floor so I think that set the tone and helped for the rest of the game."
This game marked the conclusion of Wisconsin's non-conference season for 2004-05. The team went 9-2 and will open up Big Ten play next week Wednesday when they travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face Purdue. While home has been where the wins are for the Badgers, the road has proved to be a tough place. The Badgers are 1-2 on the road so far this season and Purdue has won the last 29 games at Mackey Arena against Wisconsin.
"Purdue's a tough place to play, we're going to have to focus on playing tough on the road, and staying tough and staying together as a team and executing on the road," Tucker said.