"James is quicker than anyone we have, although Trevon's not far behind," said Badger coach Bo Ryan.
Hughes had a lot more than that riding against him. As a junior, Hughes has one year less experience than James and Hughes was playing on the road at the Bradley Center on Saturday night. Up to this point, Marquette is judged, from top to bottom, to have a better team than Wisconsin this year.
History was not an advantage in Hughes favor either. Last year, James dominated from start to finish at the Kohl Center with 20 points and six assists, which led to an easy Marquette win.
That made this year's match up all the more compelling. With an entire year to prepare for a better outcome, Hughes wanted to change the outcome of this contest.
For the average fan, this match up garnered interest for an entirely different reason – these players have vastly different leadership and playing styles. James likes to lead with a swagger when he walks the floor. He has the mentality that all eyes are on him and he exhumes confidence. Conversely, Hughes has a quiet workman-like approach and rarely shows any emotion.
That stretches into how they play. James prefers to initiate contact and constantly drives to the rack. While Hughes likes to stay outside and goes to the hoop only if and when there is an opening.
During the first half, with Wisconsin leading for the final 19 minutes, both players showed their abilities. Both players were terrific, scoring at least eight points to go along with two assists. Hughes was more reactionary to circumstances, while James repeatedly drove and forced much of the action. Without James playing well, Marquette might have fallen further behind.
The second half was an entirely different story.
"They came out as the aggressor on every aspect of the game in the second half," said Badger forward Joe Krabbenhoft.
On the defensive end, the two players did not guard each other much. In particular, Hughes spent most of his time guarding the bigger and stronger Wesley Matthews. That might have caused Hughes problems. So when Hughes got into foul trouble, it changed the entire dynamic of the game.
With Wisconsin leading by one point with six minutes remaining in the game, Hughes picked up his fourth foul and was forced to sit. In little over a minute, Wisconsin was held scoreless while Marquette surged with six consecutive points to take their biggest lead of the game at that point.
Ryan put Hughes back in the game shortly after that point to stop Marquette's strong push. However, because of the foul situation, Ryan was constantly forced to rotate Hughes out to make sure he could close out the game during the final moments.
After his most recent time spent on the bench, Hughes re-entered with 90 seconds remaining and Wisconsin down by seven points. Hughes came down the court and hit a clutch three-pointer that gave Wisconsin the hope that the team desperately needed.
On the next possession, Hughes made a huge lay-up with a relentless drive against Marquette's Lazar Hayward. On the downside, the play took an excruciating long time to develop while the Badgers needed the clock on their side.
Hughes would have the same opportunity on the next play. With Marquette leading by four points again, Hughes dribbled for far too long looking with less than 30 seconds remaining. In what would be his final decision of the day, and the game's biggest play, Hughes lunged Marquette's defense and took a three-point shot.
The ball missed the rim by six feet.
"A lot of guys don't try and force things," said Ryan. "The one shot at the end where [Hughes] thought they guy was gonna jump and tried to create a foul and ended up with an air ball."
For most of the game Hughes played well and most would say better than James. The Badger's star finished with four more points with two less turnovers.
Unfortunately, numbers don't make a point guard great. Instead it's the moments when leadership is needed the most that become the lasting images of a great point guard. When other players can't get anything going and someone has to step up and make a smart decision.
With the game on the line, Hughes fell short, in more than one way.