In front of a raucous crowd wearing red — Wisconsin red, that is, not Cardinal red — Stanford men’s basketball (1-1, 0-0 Pac-12) lost to Wisconsin (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) on Friday night in the first edition of the Brew City Battle at American Family Field in Milwaukee. In a defensive battle that saw both teams struggle to sink their shots, the Badgers took an early lead and held on for a 60-50 victory to hand the Cardinal their first loss of the young season. The game was played on the baseball diamond where the Milwaukee Brewers play their home games.
Stanford could not hang onto the ball in the first half, turning the ball over 12 times on 34 possessions. Wisconsin took advantage of the turnovers, creating 18 points off of Stanford’s mistakes.
“It’s been an achilles heel,” head coach Jerod Haase said of the turnovers. The Cardinal cleaned it up in the second half, turning the ball over just four times for 16 total on the night. Senior forward James Keefe was the main culprit, turning the ball over a team-high four times — although all came in the first half.
“I think at times we were trying to penetrate where there weren’t gaps and there weren’t openings, I think a few of them were unforced,” Haase continued. “One of the challenges that we have had is there’s a wide variety” of reasons why the team has struggled with turnovers.
Both teams struggled with 3-point shooting, combining for a total of 6-36 from behind the arc. Stanford did not make any of its nine attempts in the first half, and only one shot from the 3-point line found the basket in the second half.
Because the game was played in a baseball stadium, with the court situated on the infield, the optics were much different from what players are used to in a normal basketball arena. That may have caused the shooting struggles, especially in the first half, as it took both teams the better part of the half to acclimate to the venue.
Players from both teams, however, downplayed the effect that the venue had on their teams’ shooting struggles. Wisconsin’s senior forward Tyler Wahl and junior guard Jordan Davis said shots just weren’t falling for the Badgers, while Stanford graduate student guard Michael Jones admitted it was different but said “it’s no excuse for us” since Wisconsin also dealt with the same problem.
“They did a good job disrupting our offense early on,” Jones said of why the Cardinal could not get comfortable in the first half. “They were clogging up our driving lanes a lot, making it difficult to kick out, and I think we saw that in the second half, when we ran our offense for longer we were able to get some better looks.”
Stanford went into halftime down 32-20 and it looked like Wisconsin might have been able to run away with the victory. But the team came out of halftime ready to fight, and both teams traded baskets on the first several possessions of the second half. While the Cardinal still struggled behind the 3-point line, they played better in the paint and managed to shoot 40% (10-25) overall.
The defense also turned up the heat, forcing six turnovers during the half and holding the Badgers to a nearly six minute scoring drought from the field that allowed the Cardinal to come within five points with just over eight minutes left.
But just when it looked like Stanford might be able to pull itself back into the game, the Badgers made their own adjustments on defense and held the Cardinal without a field goal until there was only 1:30 left in the game. During that stretch, junior forward Brandon Angel and sophomore guard Isa Silva found themselves in foul trouble, with Silva logging just four minutes of game time in the second half. Haase kept Angel in the game, and by the end of the night he led all Stanford scorers with 14 points.
One of the main storylines coming into the game was the availability of senior forward Spencer Jones, who missed the season opener with a lower body injury. Although he did not start, he came off the bench early in the first half and logged 21 minutes of playing time. He led the team with eight points in the first half and notched four blocked shots throughout the game.
“[Jones] probably didn’t feel perfect tonight but battled through it,” Haase said. “I do think not having the reps over the last 10 days or whatever it’s been will probably impact him a little bit as well, but certainly no red flags of concern moving forward.”
Wahl led Wisconsin with 17 points as he, Davis and sophomore guard Chucky Hepburn all put up double-digit point totals for a Badgers team that spread the ball around well all game.
“Wisconsin is a well-coached, physical, disciplined team,” Haase said. “They do a nice job running their stuff offensively, they have some really skilled players as well, and so I think they do have a lot of the characteristics that have helped define Wisconsin over the years.”
Next up for the Cardinal is another non-conference game against No. 19 San Diego State (1-0, 0-0 Mountain West), with tipoff set for 6 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion on Nov. 15.