Outscored its WIAC opponents by an average score of 78.3 to 41.0 in four games, UW-Whitewater, a team that returned 16 letterwinners, four starters and ranked fourth in the D3hoops.com preseason poll, gave the Badgers all it could handle for 40 minutes.
The Badgers got anything but a breeze in their final exhibition game, needing a late charge to hold off UW-Whitewater, 64-47, in front of a sold-out Kohl Center.
"If you're a state school and you've got all those veterans back, that's why this is a great year to play them because of what they have back," UW Head Coach Bo Ryan said. "We've played a couple teams in the state league that maybe they weren't at the top of their game because they lost players the year before, but (UWW Head Coach) Pat (Miller) knows what he has.
"I said to my wife, I said ‘if it's 10, 15 points … you watch, this is going to be a heck of a game.' Did I look surprised? I'm not surprised."
Whitewater scored the first points of the game, a layup by Matt Goodwin, but unlike so many other state schools that melted under the bright lights and the big stage, the Warhawks stayed close, trailing only 28-25 at halftime.
Whitewater shot 47.8 percent (11-for-23) from the floor in the first half and forced seven Wisconsin turnovers. It wasn't for the Warhawks foul trouble (11 personal fouls) that led to UW making seven more free throw than them, Whitewater would have headed into the visiting locker with the lead.
"We knew that we needed to step up in the locker room," senior Joe Krabbenhoft said. "We knew what we needed to do and that starts on the defensive end with us. We knew that we had to pick it up (because) they executed well in the first half and we let them get some open shots that normally we don't."
Wisconsin came out with some bounce in its step over the first six minutes of the first half, turning a three-point lead into a seven-point advantage, by only turning the ball over once and grabbing eight of their 16 offensive rebounds during that stretch.
But Whitewater, on the back of senior Myles McKay, kept putting pressure on Wisconsin. McKay, a senior from Menomonee Falls H.S., continued to be a catalyst on both ends of the court for UWW. During Whitewater's comeback, McKay grabbed the defensive rebound and faked sophomore Tim Jarmusz, drawing a foul from behind the three-point line.
Of McKay's game-high 16 points, five came from the foul line where he shot 100 percent, helping his team equal UW from the free throw line (17-of-23 for UWW, 17-for-21 for UW), a rarity for a Bo Ryan coached team.
So when Madison-native Kori Vernon connected on a three-point play at 9:14 to cut the UW lead to 44-42, the Badgers knew they needed to find a rallying point.
Starting with back-to-back free throws from Bohannon to double the lead, the Badgers went on a 9-0 run over the next five minutes that finally gave UW some breathing room. During that stretch, seven of the nine points came from either Landry (four) or Bohannon (three).
"Whether we're upperclassmen or not, it's a team effort from the person to the end of the bench to the guy on the court," said Landry, as the Badgers outscored UWW 20-5 the last nine minutes of the game. "We knew we needed to bring something to the table. This team was a team that wasn't going to go away. They were hitting shots and drawing fouls against us. We needed to find a way to get ourselves a lift and during that period of time, we found a way."
Wisconsin started to shore up its rotation, as 11 of UW's 17 players saw minutes on Tuesday. Of the five Wisconsin's freshmen, Jordan Taylor played 21 minutes (four points, three assists, three turnovers), Rob Wilson played seven minutes (three points on a three-pointer), Ryan Evans played one minute (missing his only shot attempt) and Jared Berggren and Ian Markolf did not play.
Finishing the game shooting 40 percent and only 3-for-12 from the free-throw line, Wisconsin's players know that there is plenty more to do before Sunday when UW starts another campaign.
"It wasn't our best performance and we're going to sit down and look at film," Landry said. "There are a lot of things to be learned from this game. That's the way we do things here. We're going to look at the things we did right and the things we done wrong. We make sure it doesn't happen the next game."