The Wisconsin basketball team’s unofficial season opener Friday at the Kohl Center was their first opportunity to prove last year was an aberration. A promising but flawed performance in a 82-70 exhibition win against the UW-Oshkosh Titans showed this team is still a work in progress.
Sophomore guard Brad Davison led the way with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists as the Badgers held on against a UWO team ranked as the second-best Division III program in the country. Senior forward Ethan Happ, recently named a Preseason All-American, contributed 13 points and 5 rebounds, including a crowd-thrilling three-pointer.
After a somewhat slow start — the game was tied nearly nine minutes in — Wisconsin went on a 25-10 run to end the first half.
“I thought we did some good things in the first half and the first part of the second half, head coach Greg Gard said. “It was good for us to see another team.”
UWO played hard throughout the second half as they steadily chipped away at the lead with a 20-8 run to finish the game, impressing their head coach Matt Lewis.
“I thought our guys battled their tails off,” Lewis said.
The Badgers’ strong performance in the first 20 minutes was too much for the Titans as Wisconsin took advantage with their superior athletes. The dominated in the paint, scoring 48 points in the paint, including 32 in the first half, and blocked seven shots. Lewis could only joke about UW’s size advantage.
“You guys obviously all saw the tweet of them without their shirts in the summer,” Lewis said. “The strength program does a tremendous job here.”
Adam Fravert led the Titans with a game-best 20 points, while David Flotho added 17 points and seven rebounds. The Titans outscored the Badgers 43-35 in the second half.
Friday’s contest showed there is still work to be done for the Badgers. They missed their first seven shots from three-point range and playing sloppy defense as the second half progressed. Wisconsin also seemed to lose focus at times which seemed to frustrated Gard and his staff. In the waning moments of the first half, they turned the ball over and gave up a basket and a foul shot with less than a second left. UW players hope they’re just shaking off the rust.
“There was some nerves and some jitters just getting out on the floor for the first time with fans and playing against a different colored jersey,” Davison said.
Without sophomore forward Aleem Ford, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Badgers went with small lineups, often trotting out four guards to spread the floor and take advantage of their depth at guard.
“[The frontcourt depth] is definitely going to help on the offensive end, having guys that are a little bit quicker and can get to some open spots,” Happ said.
Gard also stressed the importance of the smaller lineups to spread the floor, indicating they’ll be used later in the season.
“We were able to take advantage of an open floor,” Gard said.
The Badgers first game in the regular season starts November 6, when they host Coppin State at 7 p.m.