Van Vliet, Happ power Badgers in season opener
MADISON--Andy Van Vliet waited patiently for two years on the Wisconsin bench as older stars logged most of the minutes.
The 7-footer’s time has finally arrived for the Badgers.
Van Vliet scored 18 points, Ethan Happ had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Wisconsin opened a season of transition with an 85-50 win on Friday night over South Carolina State.
The jump-shooting Van Vliet was 4 of 5 from 3-point range and added eight rebounds. He’s one of four new starters surrounding one of the country’s top big men in Happ.
“After two years of (waiting) to finally be playing in the Kohl Center, it’s a blessing” Van Vliet said.
If he can keep up that kind of production, Wisconsin’s frontcourt will pose a big problem for opponents whose top priority will be to shut down Happ. He has the smarts and passing ability to find open teammates, so finding consistent shooters from the perimeter will be important in Madison.
“Ethan’s done a real good job of being able to get out of double-teams,” guard Brevin Pritzl said. “It makes our jobs easier and those double-teams less effective against him.”
The 6-foot-10 Happ was 8 of 11 from the floor, but 4 of 9 from the foul line.
South Carolina State fell behind by as much as 17 late in the first half but kept things respectable until midway through the second half, when Wisconsin went on a decisive 10-0 run. Van Vliet had two 3s and a steal that led to another bucket for a 68-47 lead with 7:17 left.
“It’s hard to compete with a 7-footer who can really shoot the ball from deep like that,” coach Murray Garvin said.
The Bulldogs tried to keep up by running the floor and taking quick, often tough shots from the perimeter. Donte Wright had 13 points, going 5 of 16 from the field and 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
Otherwise, South Carolina State rarely had an answer for Wisconsin’s size.
Pritzl added 17 points for the Badgers, who lost to Florida in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals last year.
“I have a quiet locker room, and that’s a good sign for a program our size to have a quiet locker room after a loss to Wisconsin,” Garvin said.
South Carolina State: It’s another season-opening road trip to learn valuable lessons for the Bulldogs, who were picked to finish seventh in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They finished 11-20 (7-9 MEAC) last year. Wright, a 5-foot-10 graduate transfer, looked fearless in taking jumpers all over the court. No other Bulldog scored in double figures.
Garvin said the team lost 3,000 points from last year’s squad to graduation. Another returnee, forward Tashombe Riley (11.4) points, was lost for the season over the summer with a broken ankle.
“That was a lot of my guys’ first collegiate game in this atmosphere. That’s a heck of a way to break young men in,” Garvin said.
Wisconsin: Coach Greg Gard will be figuring out the rotation early in the season with the Badgers incorporating so many new faces into bigger roles. Six-foot-9 forward Aleem Ford, a redshirt freshman, was the first big man off the bench, while true freshmen Kobe King and Brad Davison came into the game together about 5 minutes into the first quarter. Davison, who plays with a hard-nosed style that reminds coaches of former Wisconsin guard Zak Showalter, had five points and two assists over 15 minutes. King, a highly-recruited wing player, had six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.
Wisconsin held the Bulldogs to 34 percent shooting, though coach Gard wasn’t happy with a few early defensive lapses. He’ll also be looking for physical growth from his frontcourt outside of Happ over nonconference play.
“We have to grow a lot from a physical standpoint,” Gard said, “how we approach offenses and be a little more dominating physically.”
Wisconsin had decisive edges in points in the paint (38-8) and rebounding (41-22). ... South Carolina State finished 6 of 18 from 3-point territory.
South Carolina State: At Boston College on Sunday.
Wisconsin: Hosts Yale on Sunday.