Wisconsin Badgers interim head coach Greg Gard waits for his players to leave the court before he follows behind after the teams' loss against Purdue Boilermakers at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, December 29, 2015. AMBER ARNOLD -- State Journal

Dec. 29, Kohl Center

Season record: 8-6 (0-1 Big Ten)

Greg Gard wondered in the six days since the non-conference portion of the schedule ended whether the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team was ready to step through the ropes of the boxing ring that is the Big Ten.

It was a fair question on the interim coach’s part, considering the Badgers’ stumbles to date and how four of the top nine players in the rotation had yet to experience the grind of a conference season.

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Among the things Gard wanted answered was whether his team was ready to battle and compete. “And,” he said, “were we going to be in a position where we were ready to do what the upper-echelon teams in the Big Ten do, and that’s make it a 12-round rock fight type of game?”

The Badgers didn’t get knocked out Tuesday night, but they also weren’t the ones with their arms raised after a 61-55 loss to No. 14 Purdue at the Kohl Center.

While senior center A.J. Hammons landed the most punches, finishing with a game-high 24 points for the Boilermakers, sophomore guard Dakota Mathias provided two big haymakers late in the game. The only six points Mathias scored came on a pair of 3-pointers in the final 79 seconds that helped the Boilermakers avoid an upset and improve to 13-1 on the season.

The Badgers dropped their fourth home game of the season to fall to 8-6 and lost a Big Ten opener for the first time since the 2002-03 season, yet Gard was mostly encouraged by what he saw.

“We battled,” he said. “And that’s the biggest thing I wanted to see was how is this group going to respond and go toe-to-toe with a really good team.”