As torn and anguished as he probably was watching from afar, a certain former University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach at least had to stop and appreciate the defensive effort produced by the Badgers on Tuesday evening.
UW’s ability to make it difficult for opponents to score was a big reason Bo Ryan was able to guide the program to another level from 2001-2015. That he was forced to watch a coaching matchup featuring his son and protégé from his winter home 2,000 miles away in California was a shame, in part because Ryan’s fingerprints were all over his former program’s easy victory.
A day after rising to No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, UW put on a defensive clinic during an 82-42 victory over UW-Green Bay at the Kohl Center.
Sophomore forward Tyler Wahl registered the first double-double of his career, finishing with 11 points and a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with four assists, two blocks and two steals.
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Wahl was one of five players in double figures for UW (3-0). Senior center Micah Potter led the way with 14 points, while senior forwards Aleem Ford and Nate Reuvers added 13 apiece and senior guard Brad Davison had 10.
That balance was impressive, but it took a backseat to the Badgers’ masterpiece on the other end of the court.
“We got a lot of our offense from our defense,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “And I think this group is starting to understand how good we need to be — and how good we can be — defensively and that will allow other things to fall in place.”
Gard knows plenty about defense after coaching under Ryan for over two decades. Prior to the game, he stood on the court and caught up with Phoenix coach Will Ryan, the son of his mentor.
“Well, it started off great, getting the chance to talk to my Wisconsin family, coach Gard and the staff,” Ryan said of returning to the Kohl Center, where he got his start in coaching as a volunteer assistant, video coordinator and director of basketball operations for five seasons on his father’s staff. “I told them to take it easy on us, but they decided not to.”
Green Bay (0-2), coming off a 30-point loss at Minnesota in Ryan’s debut, shot 28.1% from the field and averaged 0.66 points per possession. The Phoenix became the first team this season to take a lead against the Badgers, but that advantage was short-lived and UW used three separate runs to build a 22-point cushion by halftime.
Wahl played a big role in helping UW overcome a sluggish start. Gard’s simple instruction prior to Wahl’s first stint off the bench was to add energy to a team the desperately needed it, and Wahl took those words to heart.
Perhaps too much, in fact. Wahl was called for traveling twice within a span of three possessions and found himself back on the bench. But the second time around, he provided a spark by doing a little bit of everything: passing, rebounding, hustling and playing defense.
UW outscored the Phoenix by 35 points in the 20 minutes Wahl played.
“For a while there, it was the Tyler Wahl show,” Gard said. “But that’s the potential he has. He’s very versatile and really athletic. I think the experience he got last year has done wonders for him.”
Wahl had only one rebound after the first two games of the season, a number he was quite aware of entering Tuesday. By halftime, he had nine. By the end of the game, he had tripled the number of rebounds grabbed by anyone on the Green Bay roster.
“My goal,” Wahl said, “was to kind of get my nose dirty.”
Davison had 10 points by the break to help UW build a 34-12 lead. That continued a trend for the Badgers, who have outscored their three opponents 130-51 in the first half this season.
The one thing that set this win apart from the first two was that Gard’s team extended its lead in the second half. Ford scored all of his points after the break as UW shot 66.7% from the field.
Bo Ryan’s teams made life miserable for opposing offense for years, especially at the Kohl Center. His son’s team was the one feeling that pain Tuesday, particularly during a stretch in the first half in which the Phoenix went 13 consecutive possessions over 8 minutes, 14 seconds without scoring.
“They’re so disciplined defensively,” said Ryan, whose team shot 15.4% (4 of 26) in the first half. “Big, long, it’s so tough to score against them.”
Photos: No. 4 Badgers lock down Phoenix