Frustrated early by missed shots and a hot start by Carroll College, the Wisconsin men's basketball team eventually rebounded behind a guard-heavy lineup to take control of its final regular season tune-up, capturing an 81-61 exhibition victory in the Kohl Center.
The Badgers went on an 11-0 run over 3:25 to all but secure the victory after Division-III Carroll pulled within eight on a Wes Ladwig free throw with 7:09 remaining.
"I think that was the point I think everything was going for us on the offensive end and we were getting some stops on the defensive end," said junior guard Michael Flowers.
Much of that scoring down the stretch for Wisconsin came from its guards, who between four of them accounted for 42 of the team's evenly spread 81 points.
The starting backcourt of Kammron Taylor and Flowers led the way for UW. Both players performed in multiple facets of the game, as Taylor scored 14 and perhaps more importantly dished out six assists without once turning the ball over. Flowers pulled in a game-high 13 rebounds to go with his 11 points and three steals.
"I definitely feel comfortable out there on the court with Kamm," Flowers said.
Carroll led by as much as nine in the first half, after going up 19-10 just under eight minutes into the game on a Buck Colomy 3-pointer. Colomy led all scorers with 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting, and the Badger big men were initially taken aback by the speed of Carroll's smaller rotation.
Taylor acknowledged that the Badgers did not have much film on Carroll, and were forced to adjust on the fly.
"We didn't know what they were trying to do," Taylor said. "It took us a while to adjust."
The starting big men, Brian Butch and Jason Chappell, only logged a combined 22 minutes in the contest – facing a much different offense than they saw in last Friday's exhibition against UW-Stout. Once coach Bo Ryan adapted, the Badgers featured as many as four guards on the floor together throughout much of the night.
"With non-conference games we're going to get every kind of match-up you can imagine," Ryan said. "We just got the two extremes – big and small."
"I think smaller we were obviously better."
After each team's respective opening streak, Wisconsin slowly started narrowing the gap. The Badgers finally took a lead they would never surrender when Jason Bohannon hit an open 3-pointer near the corner to go up 26-25 with 4:16 left in the opening half.
Bohannon continued to look the most polished of the true freshman class – finishing the game with nine points in 28 minutes off the bench. The rest of that bench did not see the same action it got against Stout, when all 16 players entered before halftime. Thirteen players appeared Wednesday, with 10 of them earning double-digit minutes.
"I'm always one of those guys looking to have you show me," Ryan said. "And some guys did a nice job tonight of doing some things."
Someone who did not get his usual playing time and concurrently never found a rhythm was star forward Alando Tucker. Tucker scored nine points on 4-for-12 shooting in 25 minutes, and was forced to leave for a stint in the first half when it appeared he might have been injured by a poke to his eye.
Tucker never quite controlled the floor in either exhibition – something he attributed to a desire to get his teammates involved. Ryan called attention to a change in his usual pace.
"Tuck's used to playing more minutes strung together," Ryan said.
Life On The Line
Ryan said after the game that he put a focus on getting to the free throw line, which the Badgers did. But take away the smooth shooting of Taylor, and UW went just 8 of 18 from the charity stripe.
Freshman Trevon Hughes, who shows flashes of raw talent and speed that have drawn parallels to an early Taylor, struggled down the stretch. He finished 1-for-5 from the line. Hughes did maintain his composure on a second-half 3-pointer in which his right leg was knocked out from under him, but failed to convert on the four-point play following a subsequent timeout.
Sophomore Marcus Landry won the team's extremely relaxed dunk contest a couple of weeks ago, and showed another glimpse at his acrobatic flare in the game's most highlight-worthy play.
Landry caught a Taylor pass looped over the rim from the right side of the hoop just shy of the backboard and slammed it home to put Wisconsin up 48-34 with 15:10 to play. Perhaps the slam redeemed a first-half miscue that bounced out on Landry.
"We didn't finish around the basket today like we wanted to," said Landry, who did manage 10 points and five boards in 16 minutes.
Wisconsin welcomes Mercer to the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon to open its most talked about regular season in recent memory. The Badgers, ranked No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, will tip it off at 4 p.m.