NCAA Basketball

Final - OT 1 2 OT Tot
30 24 11 65
24 30 9 63
6:00 PM PT7:00 PM MT8:00 PM CT9:00 PM ET2:00 PM GMT10:00 PM 北京时间7:00 PM MST9:00 PM EST, Nov 5, 2019
Sanford Pentagon, Sioux Falls, South Dakota  Attendance: 3,301

No. 20 Saint Mary's faces opening test vs. Wisconsin

Saint Mary's is used to winning its season opener, but this debut appears to be a challenging task.

The No. 20 Gaels will put a 17-game winning streak in season openers on the line Tuesday when they face solid Big Ten program Wisconsin on a neutral floor at Sioux Falls, S.D.

Saint Mary's last season-opening defeat came when it lost 71-64 at UC Irvine to start the 2001-02 season. That setback occurred in Randy Bennett's first game as coach.

Since then, there has been a litany of less than arduous opponents to start the campaign. The list includes schools such as San Francisco State, Cal State Los Angeles, Sonoma State (twice), Fresno Pacific, College of Idaho, Seattle Pacific (twice), UC Santa Cruz and Holy Names.

Last season, the Gaels opened with an 87-65 victory over McNeese State.

So it is definitely a major step up for Saint Mary's to open the slate against Wisconsin, which returns three starters from a team that went 23-11 last season. The Gaels return four starters from a 22-12 team, led by star senior Jordan Ford.

Bennett said he liked the idea of playing a team like Wisconsin in Sioux Falls because the facility -- the Sanford Pentagon, capacity 3,250 -- is a similar size to the Gaels' 3,500-seat home court.

The Badgers have some familiarity with the Pentagon as they played there on Nov. 8, 2013 when they defeated St. John's in the venue's first Division I game.

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard is happy to be back and even OK with facing a ranked opponent.

"This was an opportunity to go back to Sioux Falls. It is a great venue and we'll have a great crowd there," Gard told 97.3 The Game of Milwaukee. "But also it is a phenomenal test for us right out of the gate. It is a measuring stick. They are a veteran team. They have a terrific point guard in Jordan Ford ... it is going to be a huge, huge test."

The Gaels lost to Villanova in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last season but their epic victory over powerful Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament title game is still a topic of conversation. It was the first time Saint Mary's ever defeated a school ranked No. 1 in the country.

"Winning that game, it did kind of make your season," Bennett told the San Francisco Chronicle. "You really did something. That was hard to do. ... I think that confidence has had a great shelf life. You could feel it all summer and all fall. You've got to move past it now, but I think it's there. Our guys know they're capable of playing at a pretty high level."

Ford, who scored the third-most points (716) in a season in program history, is ready to turn toward this season.

"It's definitely been talked about a lot," said Ford, "but it's something that we're trying to put in the past now, and try to focus on this upcoming season."

Ford averaged 21.1 points last season and is a do-it-all force for the Gaels. Junior forward Malik Fitts (15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds) and junior guard Tanner Krebs (8.9 points) are the other returning starters.

Wisconsin also returns three starters as it moves on from the Ethan Happ era.

Juniors D'Mitrik Trice (11.6) and Brad Davison (10.5) return in the backcourt while junior forward Nate Reuvers (7.9 points, 60 blocked shots) is back in the interior.

Junior forward Aleem Ford (3.1) and sophomore guard Kobe King (4.2) have moved into the starting lineups. King could be a breakout player for the Badgers.

"Kobe's worked," Gard said after a recent exhibition game. "He's improved his game and improved his body, so it's good to see him stepping up."

The Badgers endured an emotional offseason when the family of assistant coach Howard Moore was involved in a car accident in Michigan. A wrong-way driver hit the car and killed Moore's wife and 9-year-old daughter Jaidyn. Moore and son Jerell (13) survived but Moore later suffered a heart of attack and is taking a leave of absence this season.

The teams split two previous meetings with the most recent being Wisconsin's 82-76 victory during the 1976-77 season.

--Field Level Media

Updated November 5, 2019

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