The Badgers certainly accomplished that early. It was the rest of the game that almost became the problem ... until two upperclassmen stepped to the forefront.
With a team saddled with foul trouble and a cold second-half shooting touch, senior Trevon Hughes and junior Keaton Nankivil came to the rescue, scoring 14 of UW's final 16 points to withstand a late Arizona charge and advance to the semifinals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational with a 65-61 victory.
"They have a veteran team, tremendous defensive system and a way of playing that makes the game hard," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "I think you are looking at an NCAA Tournament team a long time from now."
Thanks to Hughes' team-high 24 points, one point off his career high, career-high-tying seven rebounds and five steals in 37 minutes, the Badgers (3-0) will face Gonzaga (3-1) in the second-round winner's bracket at 8:30 central.
"That's a big step, especially in Maui and for all those people out East and Midwest that can't sleep well tonight. All the insomniacs," UW coach Bo Ryan said of Hughes, who also added a career-best two blocks. "I thought he stepped up in a game where two teams were pretty even. I think he made a big difference."
After registering 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists in the first half of UW's last victory over Oakland, Hughes had a mediocre second half that included two points, two turnovers and just one assist. He was on that same path again Monday night.
Hughes scored 13 first-half points, registered four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block only to be 1-of-5 from the field, including two missed free throws, through the first 14:30, as Hughes and the Badgers watched Arizona take its first lead of the ball game.
From there he took over. He drained a three-pointer to give UW the lead right back at 52-49 and made 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch. Despite the ornate amount of pressure, Wisconsin took care of the basketball, committing only eight turnovers, and turning 14 Arizona turnovers into 18 points.
"You have to give our guys so much credit to have eight turnovers with that much pressure (Arizona) was putting on the ball," Ryan said. "That was the best part of the evening."
Four of Hughes' game-high five steals led to Wisconsin seven points, five of which he scored himself.
"We had some turnovers that were tough," Miller said. "Having played against him, he's terrific on defense now. As good of a player as he is on offense, he's the same on defense and he controlled the defense. He challenges your team."
Arizona (2-1) was led by freshman Derrick Williams' 25 points. Senior guard Nic Wise chipped in with 13, but was just 3-of-12 from the floor.
"Once we got through that initial five or six minutes, we were very good defensively," Miller said. "There'll be a lot more games like this for our team."
The way the first half started, it was hard to imagine the game would come down to the wire. The Badgers burst out of the gates on a 16-2 run, including scoring the game's first 13 points, thanks to Hughes' seven points in the first four minutes.
Wisconsin shoot 43 percent in the first half, getting such favorable bounces as a Hughes' banked three-pointer and Ryan Evans' flat three-point attempt that bounced six feet in the air off the back rim and fell through the net
"That start ended up being the difference," Miller said. "They are very good defensively. We aren't going to be the only team having zero points at the first media timeout against them."
Wisconsin continued its early-season reputation of stingy defense. Entering the tournament ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense (44 ppg), Arizona, who didn't make its first field goal until the 10:39 mark, shot 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) in the first half.
But the quick-footed Wildcats only trailed by 31-23 at halftime, turning 13 personal fouls on the Badgers into 12 made free throws, something that plagued Wisconsin throughout.
Junior Jon Leuer, who led UW in scoring (15.5 ppg) and posted double figures in each of Wisconsin's first two games, was ineffective against Arizona, posting only four points and two rebounds before fouling out with 9 minutes, 42 seconds remaining.
Junior Keaton Nankivil also was a victim to foul problems, picking up his third with 6:58 remaining in the first half. The results were the Badgers forcing to go with a guard-oriented lineup for much of the second half, allowing the Wildcats to crash the boards to the tune of 36 rebounds.
In transition, Hughes slowed down the pace and drew three defenders, leaving Bohannon open on the wing. The result was drawing in the lone defender, leaving Nankivil wide-open for the slam and a 59-55 lead with 1:42 remaining.
"He was huge on the glass for us tonight," said Hughes of Nankivil. "That's what we preach at practice – get your hand up and be athletic. We have to neutralize other team's athleticism by blocking out and they didn't box out this time. That was huge."
After Jamelle Horne bounces in a three-pointer on the ensuing position, nobody boxed out Nankivil on a Hughes' drive to the basket, allowing the junior to clean the mess with a slam, and give UW an insurmountable 63-58 lead with 27 seconds left.
For added insurance, Hughes made the head's up play of the tournament in the final 10 seconds. After a free-throw miss from Nankivil, Hughes slapped the ball away from freshman Derrick Williams and dove on the loose ball, forcing a jump ball in which UW had possession. Hughes made it a two possession game with four seconds left my making 1-of-2 free throws to ice the victory.
"We got to get these guys to the pool," Ryan said, "not for a leisurely swim but to cool down."