In a contest of stop-and-go whistles and 55 free throws, Wisconsin jumped out first and never let UW-Green Bay get too close – besting their northern counterparts 79-62 at the Kohl Center.
It took UW just 3:52 to build a double-digit advantage in the first half, and they never relented it. UWGB closed the gap to 49-38 on a pair of Aswan Minatee free throws with 15:32 remaining in the game, but it was as close as they would get to the No. 9 Badgers (2-0).
Coming off an opening night free throw struggle in which Wisconsin connected on just 44 percent of its attempts, a tightly called game sent UW to the stripe for 34 tries. They connected on 19 of them for a 56 percent clip, but more significant was the inability of the Phoenix to mount a comeback charge between all those whistles and the Badgers' slow-down, half-court swing.
"I think it's a tough game to evaluate from a coaching point of view – absolutely zero flow to that game," said UWGB coach Tod Kowalczyk. "It seemed that every time we had someone going there'd be a stoppage in play."
Wisconsin led 22-4 at the tail end of a nearly six-minute UWGB scoreless streak – thanks in part to a quick start by junior guard Michael Flowers, who scored 8 of his 12 points during that early stretch.
Phoenix guard Ryan Tillema was forced to sit as Wisconsin built its large lead after he picked up his second foul just two minutes in. His hand on Flowers outside the 3-point line began the evening's parade of free throw trips. Add in an extended shot-clock malfunction pause and the UWGB early funk took a while to come out of.
Players from both sides expressed the opinion that the game was officiated especially close. Alando Tucker, who led the Badgers with 18 points and was 5-for-11 at the line, said the officials were not about to let either team get away with anything inside.
"A lot of them I think the refs were trying to make a statement that they were going to limit the physical play," Tucker said.
UWGB was able to get its best run going when they scored seven straight points on their first four possessions of the second half. The Badgers countered that stretch, however, with a 13-4 streak of their own, going up 60-40 with 12:28 to play when Jason Bohannon hit a 3 from the corner.
Despite the occasional flash penetration from UWGB guard Ryan Evanochko – who scored a game-high 19 – the Phoenix showed few signs of life after that point. They were unable to open up the floor the way Kowalczyk hoped.
"Looking at last year's game, Green Bay gave us a challenge," Tucker said. "They were actually up in the second half of last year's game for a while.
"We wanted to prove that we are the better team."
The better team on Wednesday prevailed using a rotation very similar to the one it displayed in its opener. Joe Krabbenhoft came off the bench for 27 minutes in scoring seven points and again leading the Badgers in rebounds with six.
UWGB managed to best Wisconsin on the glass, outrebounding the Badgers 40-33. But Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan cited his team's numerous free throw misses as ample opportunity for the Phoenix to work on that margin.
"How many rebounds did they get on us missing the second free throw?" Ryan asked the room. "Does that count as a rebound in that team total? I'd say if you take those away I thought we did a decent job on the glass."
In fact, UWGB hauled in 12 boards off of missed UW free throws, to just two by Wisconsin. That indeed accounted for the gap and gave Ryan another point in his ever-ongoing battle with the press corps.
That free throw percentage did improve in the Badgers' second performance, but the team still has work to do with its consistency. Tucker often times shot his freebies with the jerky release that brought down his average last season, and for the second game in a row the team failed to convert a possible four-point play.
Trips to the free throw line figure to be the one thing that will change little no matter the opponent – especially in the friendly confines of the Kohl. But otherwise, Wisconsin did what it set out to in what Ryan referred to as yet another dog fight between a couple of in-state schools.
"Even if we weren't ranked, we always want to protect our home court," Tucker said.
So far it's protected.