Badgers show flaws in exhibition win over Pioneers

Bronson Koenig was one of a few Badgers who had success at the free throw line against Florida, but Ethan Happ's and Nigel Hayes' struggles from the charity stripe hurt them when it mattered most. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Wisconsin’s 86-56 exhibition win over UW-Platteville Sunday afternoon might have been an early Thanksgiving reunion for the Gard and Showalter families, but the Badgers’ win over the Pioneers featured more than your standard batch of familial reunions.

Turnovers, missed free throws and at times sloppy defense plagued the Badgers for long stretches of the afternoon, making Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard’s first matchup against his brother, Platteville head coach Jeff Gard, far less enjoyable than he would have wanted.

Sure the Badgers have now won 43 consecutive exhibition games and led Sunday’s game from start to finish, but for a team with championship aspirations, the Badgers showed they still have a long way to go.

“I saw some things that were good and positive and obviously a lot of things that will make the teaching tape that we’ll have to get better at,” Gard said.

UW struggled for long stretches of the first half thanks to a flurry of bad passing, poor offensive possessions and abysmal free throw shooting. While the Badgers led 44-34 at the break, UW actually shot a better percentage from three, 54.5 percent, than at the free-throw line, 50 percent.

Senior point guard Bronson Koenig looked explosive in his preseason debut, finishing the game with 12 points in 19 minutes, while senior forward Nigel Hayes added ten points and five rebounds of his own.

While reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ looked like himself in the paint at times, the Badger forward struggled just about everywhere else on offense, especially at the free throw line where he shot a dismal two for eight.

“I’m not so much worried about the free throws as I am about the slowing down around the rim,” Gard said. “The free-throw shooting comes with repetition and it’s also a confidence thing, too. It becomes a point where you miss one, then it becomes three and you see a teammate miss one or two and then it grows more.”

Happ did finish the game with six points and nine rebounds and was active defensively, but his free throw-shooting woes could become problematic for the Badgers as they look forward to their regular season opener on Nov. 11.

Sunday’s victory did mark the debut for freshmen D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford as well as sophomore Andy Van Vliet, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA last season.

Van Vliet showed flashes of starting center potential down the road for UW as he affected shots around the rim throughout the second half.

Trice played the majority of the second half for the Badgers, showing great poise and court awareness as he ran the Badgers’ reserve units. He finished with only three points and two assists, but had a nice assist on a give-and-go to Van Vliet with just over five minutes to go in the game.

“He’s young, he’s a freshman, but I like his moxie and his poise and just he doesn’t get rattled,” Gard said. “He texted me last night and said, ‘coach, whatever you need from me I’m here.’ And I just like his attitude and how he approaches everything. He’s not wowed by anything—you never see him get frazzled. He just competes and is a very good teammate and wants to continue to get better and do all he can do to help this team.”

The Badgers mixed-and-matched their lineups in the second half, giving many of their younger players an opportunity to get some game experience. Their second-half lineups helped extend the Badgers’ lead over the Pioneers, but while sophomore forward Charles Thomas, redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl, Van Vliet and Trice played for more extended periods Sunday, they are more likely to play sporadically for an experienced UW team that returned 99.7 percent of its scoring from last season.

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