Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan knew when he scheduled an in-state rival loaded with veterans like Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he could be in for a dogfight.
In an 83-72 victory Saturday night at the Kohl Center, the Badgers got exactly that.
After dominating the first 35 minutes, Wisconsin led 68-48 and looked to be running away with another blowout victory. But Wisconsin-Milwaukee came storming back, scoring 19 points in three minutes, capitalizing on five Badger turnovers. The lead was cut to just five points with 2:41 remaining.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior Clay Tucker scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, pulling the Panthers within striking distance of the defending Big Ten champions. But Wisconsin hit some late free throws to escape with the win, improving to 3-0 on the season.
Sophomore Devin Harris led the Badgers with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"We certainly showed some character in the second half with the way we battled back. We were never out of it," said Wisconsin-Milwaukee Coach Bruce Pearl. "It was just too far away. We just couldn't get over the hump."
Wisconsin-Milwaukee (0-1) is the favorite to win the Horizon Conference with four returning starters from a team that won 16 games and finished second in the league. UWM Coach Bruce Pearl hoped an upset in Madison could propel the Panthers into the national consciousness.
But aside from a horrible stretch late in the second half, the Badgers dominated the game.
"I thought for 35 minutes that was pretty decent basketball," Ryan said. "That's the thing about basketball. If you play well consistently, then if you do have those streaks, they don't hurt you as much."
Wisconsin shot 45.5 percent from the field, while five players finished in double-figures. Freddie Owens finished with 17 points, Kirk Penney had 15, and Alando Tucker and Mike Wilkinson had 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The Badgers opened the second half with a 15-6 run, using 3-pointers by Tucker and Penney and three free throws by Harris to take a 52-32 lead with 15:45 remaining.
Two turnovers in seven seconds by Wilkinson led to four quick Wisconsin-Milwaukee points with 5:30 left, pulling the Panthers within 15 points, 68-53. A 3-pointer by Ronnie Jones at the 4:25 mark cut the lead to 70-58. Tucker then hit two consecutive 3-pointers, and the Panthers trailed by just five points.
While Wisconsin played with fire late in the game, Ryan was happy his young team went through that experience in a non-conference game and survived.
"It was good for us to be in that situation," Ryan said. "I was just glad they didn't do it earlier."
The Badgers started the first half hot, shooting 50 percent from the floor, led by 12 points by Owens.
Harris gave Wisconsin an early 12-6 advantage with 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. Owens then scored seven of Wisconsin's next nine points, giving the Badgers a 23-12 lead with 7:52 remaining in the half.
UW-Milwaukee fired back with eight consecutive points from senior guard Jason Frederick, pulling within three points at the six-minute mark, 23-20.
Penney scored seven points in the final 5:30 of the half to give the Badgers a 37-26 advantage at the break.
The Badgers battle another in-state foe Saturday at 1:05 p.m., traveling to Wisconsin-Green Bay for the grand opening of the 10,200-seat Resch Center.
Badgers Improve to 3-0
Badger Nation Top Stories
Five Keys to Victory - IowaBefore Wisconsin takes on Iowa at Kinnick Stadium Saturday, BadgerNation looks at its five keys to victory.
Badger NationYesterday at 9:10 PM
How The West Can Still Be WonAlthough dropping two of its first three Big Ten games, No.10 Wisconsin still has all its goals in front of it as it begins the second half of its season.
Badger NationYesterday at 11:37 AM
Wisconsin vs. Iowa: Need To KnowHow to watch or listen to No.10 Wisconsin's Big Ten contest against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium Saturday and what you need to know.
Badger NationYesterday at 6:31 AM
Opponent Breakdown: IowaLooking to snap a two game losing streak and regain the Heartland Trophy, No.10 Wisconsin heads back on the road to face Iowa Saturday morning. BadgerNation provides a breakdown of…
Badger NationThursday at 3:39 PM
Sports Illustrated Included w/ BadgerNation!Becoming a BadgerNation member just got better.
Badger NationThursday at 12:49 PM