A Healthy Trice Boosts Wisconsin In Season-Opening Win

A Healthy Trice Boosts Wisconsin In Season-Opening Win

Basketball

A Healthy Trice Boosts Wisconsin In Season-Opening Win

MADISON, Wis. – Watching his team struggle without him through long stretches of last season, D’Mitrik Trice wanted to hit the ground running the next chance he got. He attacked his rehab, his spent hours on his shooting and was ready to hit the reset button come 2018.

With the way he shot the ball in the first half, it was game over for Coppin State.

Healed and refreshed, Trice was the catalyst early for Wisconsin’s dominant performance with a career-high 21 points in an 85-63 blowout over the Eagles in Tuesday’s season-opener at the Kohl Center.

“I start(ed) from the beginning,” Trice said. “More so, I would say it was more of a mental game for me, as for anybody who’s coming off of injury. It’s between your ears. I felt like I needed to get that confidence back that I had been playing (with) before.”

Winning its 16 season opener in the last 17 years, Wisconsin (1-0) got plenty of production from junior Brevin Pritzl (16 points) and a triple-double from Ethan Happ (10 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists), not surprising considering the overmatched opponent and a Badgers squad carrying a chip on their shoulder of missing the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2008.

Wisconsin returns 94.9 percent of its scoring from a season ago and 92.6 percent of its minutes, but that number includes little production from Trice, who was forced to take a medical redshirt after a foot injury limited him to 10 games.

From the start of the season to that point, however, Trice’s perimeter game had evaded him. While he was following his early career arch of shooting 38 percent from the floor, the point guard was shooting only 30 percent from 3-point range (12-for-40) through 10 games. It was an 11.8 percentage point dip from his true freshman season.

Flipping the small sample size in his favor, Trice attempted five 3-pointers in his first seven minutes, made four of them and kept the offense chugging along.

“It’s just about putting the ball on the rim and shooting with confidence,” said Trice, who finished 5-for-9 from 3-point range and UW finished 12-for-32 after it tapered off in the second half. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

Adding Trice in with all the returning 30-plus game contributors meant that the Badgers could be a few steps ahead entering this year, starkly different than the steep learning curve the group had to be on at the start of last season.

That allowed head coach Greg Gard to focus on one main thing: defense.

It was what turned the season opener from a seesaw affair to a runaway. Wisconsin’s 14-0 run over a span of nearly seven minutes saw the Badgers contest shots, allow only one offensive rebound on 10 offensive possessions, register two blocks and draw four offensive fouls by four different players (Trevor Anderson, Brad Davison, Happ and Kobe King).

After Coppin State (0-1) scored 11 points in its first four possessions, the Eagles notched only two points in the subsequent 14 possessions.

“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Gard said. “We’ve shown flashes of it, but the consistency of developing the identity on that end has to grow.”

With a cushioned lead, Happ went to work. With the Eagles determined to not let Happ beat him in the post, the senior registered seven assists and eight rebounds in the first half. He finished with 12 assists, one shy of tying the program record, that led to 32 points (eight 3-pointers, four 2-pointers).

“We’ve got a lot of shooters,” Happ said. “You could kind of tell that was their game plan was just take me away. That worked out well having them knock down those shots early.”

Even when Happ needed only two points to etch his name in the record book, the senior didn’t force anything and kept looking for the open teammate. When he hit his free throws with 6:32 remaining, he registered the first triple-double by a Big Ten player since Ohio State’s JaQuan Lyle on Jan. 13, 2016.

“I remember watching him play early in his college career,” said Coppin State coach Juan Dixon, who scouted Happ when he was an assistant at Maryland. “I knew he was going to be a special player. He was one of my favorite players in the country back then. We knew we had our hands full.”

Due to injuries and overall inexperience, UW was handcuffed early on with its ability to count on multiple scoring options consistently, forcing Happ to shoulder most of the burden. Not only do the Badgers have Happ, Pritzl and a host of others with something to prove, but Wisconsin also has its point guard back.

“It’s great, it’s really great to have Meech back,” Pritzl said. “It just makes everything easier and gives us a good steady point guard position. It’s really good having him around.”

 

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