Coach Bo Ryan didn't want to get too carried away with superlatives to describe what on the surface appeared to be a picture-perfect opening weekend for defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin.
The Badgers improved to 2-0 with an 84-56 dismantling of Northern Illinois at the Kohl Center, winning the championship game of the NABC Classic.
"You might think we played well, but not all 40 minutes," Ryan said. "We still have a lot of questions, a lot of answers we're looking for."
But the Badgers dominated both ends of the court against their Mid-American Conference opponent, playing textbook defense while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and recording just six turnovers.
"I spent five years in the Big Ten, and that is a team that can compete at the top of that league," said Northern Illinois Coach Rob Judson.
Junior guard Freddie Owens led Wisconsin with 19 points, making a string of highlight-reel shots in one of the most impressive offensive displays of his career. He was named the NABC Classic Most Valuable Player in a ceremony following the game, edging out senior Kirk Penney by a single vote.
The Badgers improved to 2-0 for the first time since the 1998-99 season, when they opened up with victories against Loyola, Chicago and UW-Milwaukee. They also improved to 14-1 on their home floor in Ryan's tenure as head coach.
With six freshmen on the Wisconsin roster, the Badgers were anxious to get into an actual game setting to find out how they would react. The answers were positive, with several first-year players making impressive debuts.
"It was good to start out like this in a tournament setting and see how we do," Penney said. "A lot of guys got a chance to get in and contribute for us, so it's a good starting point for us."
While Ryan said there is much improvement to be made following the season-opening weekend, he was pleased with the two wins.
"Handling teams like this that are so hungry, knowing they are going to come at you and you withstand it…I like the way it turned out," Ryan said.
Owens helped put the game out of reach early in the second half, when he hit a 3-pointer and two acrobatic buckets inside the paint to give the Badgers a 48-24 lead. Penney came alive in the second half, scoring 14 of his 19 points following the break, including eight points in a four-minute stretch to give Wisconsin a 73-41 lead with 4:42 remaining.
Wisconsin started the game cold, missing five of its first six shots, before true freshman Alando Tucker hit three straight field goals, and a 3-pointer by Penney gave Wisconsin a 14-9 lead at the 11:46 mark.
The Badgers' stingy defense frustrated Northern Illinois throughout the first half. The Huskies shot just 36.4 percent and were allowed few second chances. Penney, who led Wisconsin with 25 points in Friday night's 81-55 win over Eastern Washington, took just two shots in the first half but had a team-high six rebounds.
Wisconsin started to break the game open late in the first half, taking advantage of a technical foul by Northern Illinois' Marcus Smallwood to take a 32-18 lead at the 3:05 mark. Mike Wilkinson converted a three-point play with 31.3 seconds remaining to give Wisconsin a 35-20 advantage at the break. The Badgers had just three turnovers in the first half.
Penney also was named to the NABC All-Tournament Team, along with Alvin Snow from Eastern Washington, Marcus Smallwood from Northern Illinois, and Tyrone Walker from Winthrop.
The Badgers return to action Nov. 23 in a sold-out in-state battle against UW-Milwaukee at the Kohl Center.
Freddie Owens leads UW to Victory
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