first_imgOnly 10 teams in the nation have two players on the watch list for the Wooden Award, which goes to college basketball’s top player. Wisconsin’s terrible twosome showed why UW is one of those teams as the men’s basketball team started off its season successfully, breezing past Mercer University (Macon, Ga.) 72-48 at the Kohl Center Sunday afternoon. “It’s a start,” Badger head coach Bo Ryan said. “There’re 30 more.” “We can actually put a mark in our win column,” Alando Tucker said. “Whenever you can get that to start it off, it’s good.”Wisconsin’s two Wooden Award candidates split everything down the middle in UW’s season opener, with Tucker and Kammron Taylor each shouldering the Badger offense for a half, and finishing with 21 and 22 points respectively.Early on, the undersized Bears loaded defenders into the paint, playing a man-zone mix, daring Wisconsin to hit outside shots. Taylor took Mercer up on the offer, hitting all four of his three-point attempts in the first-half, piling up 18 points in the first 20 minutes. “We tried to come out and … mix a man and zone, but Taylor really shot us out of it,” Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker said. “I was real impressed with him.”Wisconsin fell down 8-4 to open the game, but by the six-minute mark the Badgers took the lead and never looked back, with a slow but effective 15-4 run midway through the first half, building a 24-14 lead that would never be challenged. Missed free throws in the first half left UW with only a 39-25 lead, and many points were left on the court as Mercer turned the ball over 11 times in the opening stanza. As the game wore on, the Badgers seemed to experiment with different lineup combinations. After Taylor’s three-point shooting display in the first half, Mercer was forced to come out and defend the Badgers’ perimeter men, opening the door for Tucker, who had a quiet five points at the break. In the second half, the senior forward shot 8 of 11 from the field and poured in 16 points, most of them inside as he out-muscled the Bear big men for inside layups. “Our strategy was to whisper in his ear ‘North Dakota State, North Dakota State,'” Slonaker said, referencing Tucker’s 2-18 shooting performance from a year ago. “It worked for a half, but we couldn’t stop him in the second half to save our lives.” Tucker finished an impressive 10 of 18 from the field, but misfired on all five of his three-point attempts, which was a definite point of emphasis for him over the summer. “It wasn’t falling … a couple of them were flat,” Tucker said of his jumper. “I had to get to the lane and try to draw some fouls or create opportunities for my other teammates.” It was a balanced effort from Tucker and Taylor’s teammates, but sophomore Joe Krabbenhoft stood out, securing 10 rebounds to go along with six points in only 20 minutes of action. “He’s relentless,” Taylor said. “He doesn’t care how many points he scores. He does the little things.”Despite the margin of victory, Wisconsin left the game feeling that there was plenty of work to do. The free throw shooting actually got worse in the second half as the Badgers finished a paltry 12 of 27 from the charity stripe. “We came out flat — I think it was a mental thing,” Tucker said. “I think once a couple of guys started missing, it was one of those plagues that went down the line throughout the team.”Tucker wasn’t too fazed by the performance, however, and promised improvement.”We still won the game, so we’ll step up next time and knock those down.”The Badgers, who won their season opener for the fifth straight season, were quick to point out that while they might be a little rough around the edges right now, it’s still early in the season. “It’s a work in progress, you know we’re still in November here,” Krabbenhoft said. “I think come March, April, down the line I think things will be clicking even more than they are right now.”last_img

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