Badgers receive scare from intrastate rival

MADISON, Wis. — The final score won’t reveal how much trouble Wisconsin encountered with Green Bay at the Kohl Center on Wednesday night. A double-digit margin certainly looks like the kind of advantage the Badgers should have had all game.

It wasn’t that easy. And given the supposed discrepancy in talent, size and athleticism, one has to wonder how Wisconsin should feel.

Yes, Wisconsin squeezed past Green Bay for a 65-54 victory. Those are the most important numbers from the game. But it’s also important to note that it took more than 17 minutes for the Badgers to grab their first lead.

Wisconsin (7-4) doesn’t play another game for 10 days, in part, because of end-of-semester finals. Maybe the break comes at a good time considering the team’s rocky start to the season.

The question Wisconsin players should ask in the meantime is: Does it say more that Wisconsin came back to win on Wednesday or that a team without a Kohl Center victory in 15 tries provided such a stern challenge?

“We’re still making some of the same mistakes over and over, which is a little bit concerning,” Badgers center Jared Berggren said. “I think we’ve got to learn a little quicker here and start making some more forward progress. It was a little concerning the way we started tonight.”

Green Bay didn’t play like a team that entered the game 3-5. The Phoenix led by as many as seven points on four separate occasions, the last coming at 21-14 with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Wisconsin didn’t snatch a lead until 2:48 remained in the first half on a Berggren dunk.

“We weren’t putting up numbers,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “If the numbers aren’t going up on one side of the scoreboard, and somebody gets to nine and you only have two, it’s like, ‘Whoa, that’s really a big lead.’

“But you’ve got to be smart enough as players when you’re on the court. It’s still one possession at a time. They did some good things. They hit some shots. They got the ball where they wanted, and we had to take that away from them.”

Wisconsin played Wednesday’s game without forward Mike Bruesewitz, who missed his second straight contest after suffering a concussion in practice last week. His absence could have played a role in the team’s sluggish start because he typically provides energy and hustle.

But that’s not a good enough excuse for the Badgers making just 1 of 10 shots to begin the game and allowing Green Bay’s guards to find gaps under the basket for easy layups.

“I think we were a little too stagnant to start,” said Badgers forward Sam Dekker, who started for the second straight game in place of Bruesewitz. “We’ve got to get someone to light that spark under us and propel us into the game.”

Certainly, there were still positives to be found in victory.

Freshman Zak Showalter demonstrated he could excel in a pinch, recording season highs in minutes (23) and points (eight). Dekker (10 points) continues to take on a bigger scoring role despite being a freshman. Berggren (10 points, four rebounds, four blocks) is playing like one of the best big men in the Big Ten.

And even forward Ryan Evans made a few free throws (3 for 6) one game after an abysmal 1 for 9 performance against Marquette, although he still airballed an attempt Wednesday night. His season percentage increased from 31.8 percent to 34.0 percent (17 for 50), much to the delight of the Kohl Center crowd, which cheered loudly when he made his first two attempts.

“I increased my average with a 50 percent performance tonight,” Evans said. “The crowd and my teammates are gong to help pull me out of this slump that I’m in. I really feel that.”

Despite those positives, there were more than enough mistakes to keep players in the film room for the next week, provided they’re not studying for finals.

The Badgers shot 60 percent from the free throw line (12 for 20) and were outrebounded 35-32. And neither of Wisconsin’s point guards, Traevon Jackson or George Marshall, recorded an assist in the first half.

Wisconsin has two games remaining before it begins Big Ten play against Penn State on Jan. 3. Between now and then, there is plenty to fix. Just how much the Badgers are actually capable of fixing remains to be seen.

“I don’t think we really expected to be at 7-4,” Berggren said. “As far as the way we’re playing, there’s room for improvement. We’re doing some good things. But I don’t think we’re doing it on a consistent enough level.”

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.