Wisconsin’s offense struggled to consistently get touches in the post in the first half but were able to rely on other parts of the offense to find ways to generate scoring. One area where Wisconsin had to make it up for the lack of post touches was settling for 3-point shots, as they finished 7-for-21 (33.3 percent) from three.
Despite Wisconsin likely settling for more 3-pointers then they would have preferred, they still managed to shoot a high percentage from the field, finishing the second half at 57.7 percent (15-for-26) and 46.4 percent (26-for-56) for the game. Most important, UW went 20-for-23 from the free throw line and 14-for-15 in the second half.
All three players from Wisconsin’s frontcourt finished the game in double figures, as Sam Dekker led the way scoring a career-high 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Frank Kaminsky was second with 19 points and Nigel Hayes had his sixth straight game in double figures with 12 points despite going 3-for-11 from the field.
As the game wore on, Wisconsin found success around the basket as North Carolina’s frontcourt players picked up fouls. With Wisconsin finding ways of attacking the basket and drawing fouls over time, it caused North Carolina to give space to Kaminsky or Dekker to avoid the excess fouls. Wisconsin was able to finish the game with 36 points in the paint, 20 of which came in the second half.
Even with shots not falling at times, Wisconsin did well giving itself second-chance opportunities, finishing with 12 offensive rebounds against the Tar Heels’ length. Hayes and Dekker each finished the game with three offensive rebounds, and Kaminsky and Josh Gasser each had a pair two offensive rebounds, all leading to 10 extra points.
Outside of the paint, Wisconsin spaced the floor and took care of the basketball against North Carolina’s pressure defense, finishing with 13 assists to five turnovers. Gasser (six points) and Bronson Koenig (nine points) each finished the game with four assists and no turnovers. The Badgers never caved and continue to play their style, methodically taking what the defense gave them.
Gasser deserves a lot of credit for the defense he played against Marcus Paige in holding North Carolina’s leading scorer to 12 points on 4-for-11 from the field. Although Paige did reach double figures, he was held to six points for the first 38 minutes until he hit two deep 3-pointesr to keep Carolina close.
Gasser was able to consistently get a hand in Paige’s face and never allow him to get comfortable on offense. That work defensively prevented North Carolina from establishing the tempo in its favor the entire game.
Paige’s 12 points was second on the team, as Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson each scored 15 points on a combined 13-for-20 from the field. Jackson hit three 3-pointers on three attempts, a mild surprise since he entered the game shooting 28.1 percent from the perimeter. Paige was the other player for North Carolina to connect three different times from 3-point range.
Overall North Carolina shot 8-for-13 (61.5 percent) from three and 26-for-56 (46.4 percent) from the field. After the Tar Heels shot 50 percent in the first half, Wisconsin did a better job contested shots in the second half to drop UNC’s shooting percentage over seven points.
North Carolina entered the game averaging 13.9 offensive rebounds a game but Wisconsin was able to hold them to only nine. Part of that was leading offensive rebounder Kennedy Meeks being limited with a left knee injury and getting just one offensive rebound and four total. Isaiah Hicks was the only Tar Heel to finish with multiple offensive rebounds (three) and more than four total rebounds (six). UW held North Carolina to only nine second-chance points and 28 points in the paint, two big accomplishments.
Wisconsin winning the rebounding battle, 35-28, represented only the fifth time all season the Tar Heels were beaten on the glass.
The defense for Wisconsin only forced four turnovers and not one player had multiple miscues. Even so, those four turnovers led to nine points, including a critical steal and fast-break layup by Zak Showalter that gave UW the lead for good in the second half.
It was Wisconsin’s fourth straight game committing double digit fouls, as the Badgers tied their season high with 18. Despite the high number, North Carolina had trouble capitalizing, going 12-for-18 from the charity stripe.
Wisconsin struggled to find its shot in the first half but pushed its percentage points 21 points higher with a blistering 15-for-26 (57.7 percent) shooting performance in the second half. The high percentage started with finally consistently getting more post touches and establishing Kaminsky down low. Kaminsky scored the first four points of the second half and six of team’s first 13 points. With Kaminsky scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half, it also helped open up other scoring weapons, as three other players for Wisconsin scored at least seven points in the second half.
As good as Kaminsky was, Showalter was able to provide a big spark off the bench for the second consecutive game. Showalter finished the game with six second-half points and made three big plays for Wisconsin right when they were making its comeback.
Showalter was able to help give Wisconsin the lead for good at the 6:08 mark with his steal, gambling after seeing guard Nate Britt expose the basketball enough to where Showalter was able to poke it away and start the fast break.
The return of Traevon Jackson into the rotation was also a lift after the senior had missed last 19 games. Jackson played nine minutes off the bench and finished with four points, including knocking down his first shot – a 3-pointer – on his first possession back. Jackson finished the game with one assist to one turnover.
Game MVP: Sam Dekker. Although Wisconsin’s offense struggled in the first half, it was Dekker who kept them in the game. If it wasn’t for his play early on, UW’s tournament run might be done. The junior was very effective moving around without the basketball, as he was able to find cutting lanes to the basket and Koenig was able to find him twice. Dekker in the first half at times was really the only player who hunted for his shot and was aggressive throughout.
Although Kaminsky was able to register 15 points in the second half, his play continued to help Dekker on offense, as he scored eight points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field. Even when Dekker wasn’t scoring, he still was able to contribute in other areas, notably finishing with a season-high 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and the sixth of his career.