Young Phoenix visiting Kohl Center

Badgers welcome in-state opponent

In the past four years, the Kohl Center has been kind to UW-Green Bay freshman forward Ryan Tillema. As a standout at Randolph High School, Tillema won four consecutive Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 4 state championships.

Wednesday, however, the Kohl Center will be a hostile environment for Tillema and his Phoenix teammates when they face host Wisconsin (5-1 overall). For the Badgers, this is the first of three games against intra-state opponents in the next eight days.

Badger sophomore center Greg Stiemsma knows Tillema's game as well as anyone, having played alongside him on three of Randolph's state championship teams.

"It's going to be weird to see Ryan on the other team," Stiemsma said. "I've been playing with him since we were in fifth grade. So, it's going to be kind of weird to see him, especially on this floor, (after) playing in three state championship games with him. It's going to be a little different feel."

Tillema, a two-time first-team all-state selection, is one of three freshman starters for an extremely young UWGB squad that has thus far struggled to a 2-4 start. Tillema is the team's second-leading scorer (10.7 points per game) and one of the nation's top 3-point shooters, having made 16 of 32 attempts (50 percent).

"He can shoot the ball, that's for sure," Stiemsma said. "He's got a real nice touch around the perimeter and he definitely can score."

The Phoenix do not have a senior on its roster and six freshmen have played this season, including five true freshmen and three from the state of Wisconsin: Tillema, starting forward Mike Schachtner of Somerset, and reserve guard Cordero Barkley of Racine St. Catherine's. A fourth home-state freshman, Randy Berry of Plover (Almond-Bancroft HS), is expected to redshirt.

The freshmen are not just playing, but have assumed key roles. Tillema has made nearly half the team's 3-pointers (16 of UWGB's 33) and has led the team in scoring twice. Schachtner is UWGB's fourth-leading scorer and its best field-goal shooter (48.5 percent) among players with more than three shot attempts. The third freshman starter, forward Terry Evans, who redshirted last year, leads the Phoenix with 6.0 rebounds per game and is third in scoring (9.0 points per game).

"The freshmen are getting a lot of minutes," said Wisconsin assistant coach Greg Gard, who scouted the Phoenix for the Badgers. "They are just going to get better and better each game. The main thing is that you just keep playing hard, which they have been."

UWGB did not exactly ease into the season, playing Washington and Miami (Fla.) in its second and third games, part of the Black Coaches Association Classic in Seattle, losing by a combined 59 points.

"They are going to take some lumps along the way," Gard said. "But I think it's going to pay off for them down the road."

Wisconsin should be wary of UWGB's 3-point shooters. In a curious early-season anomaly, UWGB has shot better from the beyond the arc (42.3 percent) than overall (37.2).

The Badgers will have to close out defensively on Tillema, who scored 18 points on 6 of 10 3-point shooting in UWGB's 71-48 season-opening win over UNC Greensboro. He made 4 of 6 triples in a five-point loss to Central Michigan and scored 19 points (including 3 of 8 beyond the arc) in a 59-51 loss to Illinois State Saturday.

"(Tillema's) won four state championships," Gard said. "He's been in situations where the games are on the line, and been in big games. I think that's probably a huge key to his success right now. In addition to being a very good player, he's not starry eyed by anything that's going on around him."

What: Wisconsin (5-1) v. UW-Green Bay (2-4)
When: Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 7:04 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center (17,142) in Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Televised live on ESPN Plus and ESPNU. WISC-TV will carry the game in Madison. Radio broadcast live on Wisconsin Radio Network.
Series notes: Wisconsin 11-0 all-time versus UWGB. The Badgers won last year's meeting 65-55 at the Kohl Center.

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