It didn't take long for Wisconsin's six freshmen to get a taste of what Big Ten basketball is all about. Exhibition games are designed to help teams ease into live competition, but the Badgers had a dogfight on their hands at the Kohl Center Wednesday night.
Wisconsin opened its 2002-03 season with a gritty 71-52 victory over EA Sports All-Stars. EA Sports committed 30 personal fouls, including four by a familiar face, former Illinois star Sergio McClain. The Badgers were awarded 31 free throw attempts, while EA Sports had just eight.
Senior Kirk Penney said the Badgers got a sneak preview of how physical college basketball can be.
"EA Sports played hard. There was no backing down," Penney said. "They didn't give up any easy baskets. It was a good warm-up game for us, maybe something we needed."
Penney and true freshman Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 14 points apiece, while sophomore Freddie Owens had 12 points and nine rebounds.
The 6-4, 235-pound McClain paced EA Sports All-Stars with 16 points, including three 3-pointers, a wrinkle in his game the Badgers had not seen before.
The Badgers' opponent gave them a bigger test than anticipated, forcing Coach Bo Ryan to tighten up his rotation in the second half. The EA Sports All-Stars entered the contest 0-3, including an 89-62 pounding against Wisconsin-Milwaukee Nov. 2 and a 73-64 loss to UW-Green Bay the following evening. Last year Wisconsin handled the same outfit 95-64 in its opening exhibition game.
The Badgers struggled shooting, hitting just 35.5 percent from the floor and 61.3 percent from the free throw line. Wisconsin was forced to come behind after an early deficit, and didn't pull away until the final 10 minutes of the game.
Sophomore Devin Harris, in his first start at point guard following the graduation of Travon Davis, started the game 0-for-7 before hitting his last two shots and finishing with 11 points.
Ryan said Harris' early struggles were a result of EA Sports banging him around and forcing him to work through screens.
"They were physical with him," Ryan said. "I don't know how many teams we'll play in the non-conference that are that physical. It was good for us."
EA Sports All-Stars held a 32-30 lead at the 16:38 mark of the second half, with back-to-back 3-pointers from Sergio McClain and Deon Dobbs. Mike Wilkinson delivered a four-point play with 12:53 remaining, helping the Badgers go on a 15-6 run.
Wisconsin looked rusty from the opening tip of their first game action in nearly eight months. The game was tied 26-26 at halftime, with the Badgers turning the ball over nine times and missing 7-of-8 free throws in the opening stanza.
Wisconsin missed its first five shots before Freddie Owens banked in the Badgers' first points, igniting a 9-0 Badger run. The Badgers took a 17-14 lead with 7:18 remaining in the half, as Penney sank a 3-pointer for his first points of the evening. He had a team-high nine points at the break.
Penney said the early struggles might have been a case of preseason nerves.
"It was exciting to get a feel for it again, in front of the crowd and play some different players," Penney said. "There was just a whole lot of anxiety building up. We finally got a chance to attack some different competition…now we have some areas we can surely improve on."
In somewhat of a surprise, every player on the Wisconsin roster played in the game, indicating there will be no redshirts in this year's class. All 10 scholarship athletes will be utilized this season.
Ryan said he wasn't against redshirting one or more freshmen this season, but he left the decision primarily up to the players.
"None of the guys wanted to (redshirt)," Ryan said. "It was up to them, and they all wanted to play."
Badgers open up with exhibition win
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