Holding the Golden Eagles to its worst offensive performance on the season, the Badgers grinded their way to a 49-38 win inside the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the fewest points Wisconsin has allowed against Marquette since Wisconsin’s 60-34 win in 1948.
Marquette’s offense isn’t what Duke’s offense is, but Wisconsin (8-1) held Marquette to 13-for-45 (28.9 percent) from the field, and three critical scoring droughts of at least five minutes, two of them coming in the first half.
"I think just bringing it every night,” senior guard Josh Gasser said about the team’s defensive performance against Marquette. “Defensively we're still not quite there but today we were pretty good."
While the droughts in the first half helped the Badgers build their lead, the shutdown performance in the second half occurred when Wisconsin needed the most, stifling Marquette momentum as the Golden Eagles cut a 10-point halftime deficit to two points.
After Sandy Cohen cut the Wisconsin lead to two, Marquette (4-4) went without another point for six minutes and 21 seconds until Matt Carlino (game-high 18 points) stopped the drought by hitting a three with 2:36 remaining. By that time, Wisconsin had built an eight-point lead that never fell below two possessions the rest of the game.
Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin in scoring with 15 points and 10 rebounds, recording his fourth double-double on the year. Gasser was second with 12 points, as the two combined to shoot 9-for-18 from the field. The rest of the team went 8-for-34 from the field.
Despite shooting 32.7 percent from the field (17-for-52), the shots Wisconsin took were high quality shots. It was Gasser (4-for-8 from three) and Kaminsky who were able to knock down a couple of critical threes to help either stop a run by Marquette or help ice the game.
“It’s big every time the crowd got into it, every time they got down by two, three, or four points we always made a shot,” said Gasser. “We’re a veteran club, we have some tough guys and we expect nothing else. It would have been nice to make them all throughout the game, instead of at times when we needed them, but we made enough to get the job done.”
With Marquette playing zone the majority of the game, due to the Golden Eagles unable to match up with Wisconsin’s size, the Badgers post touches were limited, as the Badgers were only able to score 14 points in the paint.
“They definitely packed that zone in pretty tight to try and keep the ball out of Frank’s hands and Nigel in there too, which is a pretty smart decision, I think,” said Gasser, as Wisconsin went 8-for-30 from 3-point range. “We were forced to take a lot of outside jumpers, and they weren’t going for the majority of the game, but we happen to make enough to win.”
“First time this season we played against the zone; we were able to prepare for it for a couple of days in practice, but obviously it’s nothing like playing against the actual other team,” Kaminsky added. “We were able to do some things inside and get the ball moving around and hit some big shots but we knew it was going to be a slower pace game with the zone.”
Even if Wisconsin didn’t have the success they were hoping to have in the post, the Badgers were able to use their height to win the rebounding battle (41-28) and were able to collect 14 offensive rebounds, scoring five points off of their second chances.
“There are some things that we could have done better,” Ryan said about playing against Marquette’s zone defense. “By having smaller players, like our team back in 2001 with Mike Wilkinson at center at 6-7, there are things you can do with smaller quicker guys to rotate and do some things, the size enabled us to get some offensive boards of course, but also their quickness kept us from getting direct lanes to the basket.
Besides Kaminsky leading Wisconsin in scoring, he also was a key player on the defensive side of the floor, recording a season-high four steals. Wisconsin was able to force Marquette into 10 turnovers and were able to score 16 of the teams 49 points off of the Golden Eagles turnovers.
“The thing we can’t do, and the thing that hurt us most on offense, were poor decisions Marquette,” head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “Poor decisions that led to some really tough shots when we should have kicked or made one more pass, or turnovers when you analyze the box score, they scored a third of their points off of our turnovers. For a team that is still learning who they are offensively you cannot turn the ball over.”
Outside of holding Marquette to one of its lowest scoring outputs in the series history, it was the fewest amount of points given up by the Wisconsin defense since giving up 35 to American in the opening round win in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. That game was also held at the Bradley Center.
It is easy to describe the game as ugly, which Gasser wouldn’t disagree with when you consider who the teams were and the history of the rivalry between Wisconsin and Marquette.
“That’s a pretty perfect word for it but you expect Marquette and Wisconsin games to be a battle, tough, and a physical game,” Gasser said. “I don’t care if we win 1-0, as long as we beat Marquette.”
For Ryan, despite the sloppiness, it is the perfect game for him to continue to use as a teaching tool as he continues to develop his players for the season.
“That was a game where Steve said, all right look, here is what we’re going to do,” said Ryan. “He had a plan, they worked the plan, we made enough shots to get it done and I just love playing in those kind of games. For me it is OK and also it helps our guys to work on some kind of things for angles, ball fakes, touching the middle xand moving the ball.”