Trice, bench propel Badgers to season-opening blowout of Central Arkansas

Nigel Hayes hit a huge three-pointer to give the Badgers the victory Thursday night. 

The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) might have returned 99.7 percent of their scoring from last season, but in a 79-47 victory Friday night it was youth, not experience, that helped jump start UW’s offense and overpower Central Arkansas (0-1).

Leading by just two points with a little over seven minutes to go in the first half, sophomore forward Charles Thomas spun baseline off the right block and found senior guard Bronson Koenig wide open for a 3-pointer in the left corner. Koenig promptly buried one of his four 3-point makes on the night, extending UW’s lead from two to five points.

Three minutes later, it was freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice’s turn to take center stage, as the IMG Academy product knocked down 3-pointers on consecutive possessions in the midst of 13-2 UW run that helped extend the Badgers’ lead to 15.

“The ball moves whenever he’s on the floor,” head coach Greg Gard said. “He really has a good feel for getting teammates involved. He has a great understanding of the game.”

Trice played tallied a quick eight points in just 13 minutes Friday night. The production from the freshman guard and his fellow reserves is part of what makes UW such a dangerous basketball team.

“That’s really what makes a championship-level team,” UCA head coach Russ Pennell said. “Teams that win championships usually pick up slack when the better players have off games … That wasn’t needed tonight, but you saw a really good bench effort by the Badgers.”

The Badgers finished with 31 bench points on the night, providing an added boost that will pay dividends in the long run.

After taking a 10-point lead into halftime, the Badgers’ starters picked up where the reserves left off, as a 13-2 run to open the second half put the Badgers up 22 points with just over 13 minutes left in the game.

UW only extended its lead from there—with just over five minutes to go in the game, the Badgers led by 30 points.

Koenig finished with 16 points in 24 minutes and senior forward Nigel Hayes added 14 points, five assists and four rebounds as well.

Redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ made all four of his field goal attempts and recorded nine rebounds and four assists as UW’s trio of preseason First Team All-Big Ten players spent the final five minutes of the game watching from the bench.

“Last year that was always our problem at the beginning of the year. Guys didn’t have the on-court experience, they might have seen it, watched a lot of film of other players, but that’s definitely one thing you can’t give someone is experience,” Hayes said. “So last year we got all that, now you see we have a much more solid, much more ready group of guys to go out and play.”

After dropping last year’s home opener to Northern Illinois, the Badgers certainly looked more prepared from the opening tip-off Friday night, jumping out to a 13-3 lead.

3-point shooting struggles and at times sloppy defense, though, helped draw the Bears back into the contest.

But when UW needed a boost Friday night, it wasn’t their experienced starters that provided them with a lift—it was Trice and his fellow reserves that helped propel UW to victory.

No. 22 Creighton, UW’s next opponent Tuesday night, should be on alert, as after a decisive opening victory Friday night, the Badgers are brimming with confidence and look poised to start this season in a far more convincing fashion than they did last year.

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