Coming into the season, redshirt junior Aleem Ford wasn’t sure just how much he’d contribute to the 2017-’18 Wisconsin Badgers (1-1 Big Ten, 5-7 overall). But after taking advantage of his early season opportunities, Ford moved into UW’s starting lineup just four games into the year. With a new role, his goals changed as well. Ford said after a practice last week that he went from merely wanting to crack UW’s rotation to wanting to improve his rebounding, his 3-point shooting and his ability to create offense.
Wednesday night in Wisconsin’s 81-80 win over Western Kentucky (6-4), Ford had the best offensive game of his young Badger career. The redshirt freshman scored a career-high 14 points and snatched five rebounds. But Ford was far from the only productive Badger on the offensive end. Four UW players scored at least 14 points as Wisconsin’s offense had its most balanced scoring display of the season, and needed every hoop to squeak by a hot-shooting WKU team.
The Badgers jumped out to a fast start scoring on five of their first six possessions and had a 9-point lead just over three minutes into the game. A flurry of UW 3-pointers by Ford, redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl and even seldom used redshirt junior guard T.J. Schlundt helped the Badgers stretch the lead to ten points with 7:16 to play in the first half, but from there, Wisconsin’s offense would hit a stand-still.
As head coach Greg Gard continued to mix and match his lineups, UW’s lead quickly dwindled. Western Kentucky finished the half on a 21-4 run and held the Badgers without a field goal for more than five minutes in the final 7-plus minutes of the frame. The Hilltoppers thereby took a 38-34 lead into the locker room after shooting 58.6 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from three in the game’s first 20 minutes.
After turning the basketball over on its first two possession of the half, Wisconsin used a 9-0 run, all on 3-pointers, to snatch a 43-40 lead with 17:57 to play. The teams continued to trade baskets for the next two-plus as UW struggled to stop a Western Kentucky team that shot 54.2 percent for the game. But after a layup by WKU’s Marek Nelson brought the score to 52-51, the Badgers went on a 9-0 spurt to extend their lead to ten.
Wisconsin would struggle to push its lead to beyond that, however. And with 5:01 to play in the game, UW led by only two points. A turnover by freshman guard Brad Davison led to an easy WKU deuce to tie the game with just under five minutes to play. Davison would answer with a tough contest jumper and less than 90 seconds later a layup by redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ gave UW a 5-point lead with 3:04 to play in the game.
The Hilltoppers would not go away, however. After a Western Kentucky hoop and a free throw brought Wisconsin’s lead to only two, Davison threw an errant pass while bringing the ball up the court giving WKU a chance to tie the game.
But with 38.8 seconds to play, Davison drew his second charge of the game to give the Badgers possession. He would split a pair of free throws on UW’s ensuing possession and a pair of Hilltoppers free throws cut the Badgers’ lead to only one with only 26 seconds to play.
With 7.9 seconds in game Pritzl made one of his two free throw attempts which allowed WKU’s Darius Thompson to tie the game on a runner with two seconds to play in regulation.
Davison drew a blocking foul on Wisconsin’s ensuing inbounds pass and after making the first free throw to give UW a one-point lead, Davison missed the second free throw on purpose and the Badgers emerged with a 81-80 victory.
Check back at Dailycardinal.com/section/sports for more coverage from UW’s victory.