With its offense clicking on all cylinders, Wisconsin is on the verge of its best start in 20 seasons.
Coach Bo Ryan’s 10th-ranked Badgers, though, could be in for a stiff test against defensive-minded and unbeaten Saint Louis at the Cancun Challenge on Tuesday night.
After averaging fewer than 68.0 points in each of the previous six seasons, Wisconsin has posted 80.2 per game in opening 6-0 for just the second time under Ryan. The Badgers, shooting a Big Ten-best 45.2 percent from 3-point range, haven’t won their first seven games since an 11-0 start in 1993-94.
“Well whether happy or not, the team’s going down the same way: bussing to Chicago and flying directly,” Ryan said of the trip to Mexico. “Those were the six on the schedule. Three in a short burst here at the end. Record says what it is. We know Saint Louis is better.”
While Wisconsin got by then-No. 11 Florida 59-53 on Nov. 12, beating the Billikens (5-0) could prove to be its most difficult challenge to date. Saint Louis is holding opponents to 58.2 points per game and 20.3 percent from beyond the arc, among the best marks in the country.
Wisconsin is coming off Saturday’s 76-67 win over Oral Roberts. Emerging star Frank Kaminsky led the way with 21 points as all five starters scored in double figures for the Badgers, who were playing their third game in five days.
“A long tough, tough week, but to see Frank really get in to his rhythm this week was huge,” guard Traevon Jackson said of Kaminsky, who set a school record with 43 points last Tuesday against North Dakota.
“We need him. We needed that inside presence. To go forward from here, we can always shoot 3s, we know we can all do that, but to see him really grow into his own down there has been huge, so that’s been good.”
Kaminsky, who averaged a combined 2.9 points over his first two seasons, has posted a team-best 17.3 per game on 58.2 percent shooting. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker is second with 14.7 per contest.
While scoring hasn’t been an issue, Wisconsin is giving up an average of 68.3 points and allowing teams to shoot a conference-high 47.3 percent.
“We know what we are capable of doing and we’re playing against teams, once conference comes around and in these next upcoming non-conference games, that we have to stop the ball regardless of how much we score,” Jackson said. “That’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on if we want to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish as a team.”
The Billikens are looking to open 6-0 for the second time in three seasons after blowing by Bowling Green 74-47 on Saturday. Dwayne Evans had 14 points and freshman Tanner Lancona added 12 in 14 minutes off the bench.
Saint Louis outrebounded the Falcons 43-32 and held them to 33.3 percent shooting, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
The Badgers and Billikens have split four previous matchups, and they haven’t met since 1989.