One win away from its second consecutive Final Four, Wisconsin will have to go through the same West Regional foe as a year ago if the Badgers want to continue their season. Winners of its last 14, Arizona (34-3, 16-2 Pac-12) could have easily found itself as a No.1 seed on Selection Sunday after sweeping the Pac 12 titles, thanks to its length and experience.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for top-seed Wisconsin when they take on the Wildcats in Los Angeles Saturday.
Lay up: Avoiding scoring droughts
Wisconsin has done well of avoiding scoring droughts through three games of the NCAA tournament and that will have to continue against a talented Arizona team. In Arizona’s 68-60 win over Xavier in the Sweet 16, the Musketeers were able to control long stretches of the game, even taking a four-point lead with 9 minutes, 3 seconds remaining, until it went without a field goal for 7:32. By the time Xavier scored again, Arizona had a four-point advantage and all the momentum. Xavier was able to find ways of getting to the free throw line to stay in the game but the drought was its death sentence.
It was clear that Arizona was able to wear down Xavier through the course of the game thanks to its size on defense. The length of Arizona won’t be new to Wisconsin, which should give fans hope they the Badgers should able to handle it better than Xavier did. But in order to avoid long droughts, Wisconsin will need to be aggressive driving the basketball or getting it down low to either Nigel Hayes or Frank Kaminsky.
In last year’s matchup against Arizona, Wisconsin registered 26 points in the paint, and Kaminsky was a big reason why they were able to find success against Arizona’s length. As a team this year, Wisconsin has found success averaging 29.9 points in the paint and 33.3 points in three NCAA tournament games, a number Wisconsin’s frontcourt is going to have to try to match or exceed.
In order for that to happen, Wisconsin will need to make it a point of trying to get the ball in the paint consistently like they did to begin the second half against North Carolina. Hayes will also need to play better then what he did Thursday. The Badgers need him to be aggressive throughout as he tries to hunt his shot on a consistent basis in order to help take some pressure off of Kaminsky around the basket.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin bench production continue?
Coach Bo Ryan should be pleased with how his bench has played dating back to the Big Ten tournament. The increased bench production has helped take pressure off of the starters and that will have to continue against Arizona. Before the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin’s bench averaged 6.7 points a game during Big Ten play and three times failed to score a point. Through the last six games, the bench has upped its scoring average to 8.3 points a game.
Dukan didn’t register any points in the win over North Carolina, which snapped a seven game scoring streak, but the senior has been more assertive and more aggressive hunting his shot than he was in the regular season. If he can find ways of attacking the basket, he could have a chance to help draw fouls against an Arizona team averaging 17.8 fouls a game.
With Bronson Koenig in foul trouble, Showalter and Jackson were able to give Wisconsin good production, as the two combined for 10 points. Each played a key role in helping Wisconsin win with timely shots and good defense. Showalter was able to attack the basket in the second half, and if Arizona gives Showalter room to drive, he’ll have to take it to the rim considering the Badgers may not have many driving opportunities in the game.
Jackson may have some more success being able to drive the ball then Showalter but it will be important for him to continue to help create open shots for himself or his teammates. Jackson’s numbers will still be limited (he only played nine minutes against North Carolina) but he’ll have to make the most of his time for Wisconsin to advance.
Energy and production off the bench is important for the Badgers to not only avoid scoring droughts, but providing a necessary spark by succeeding at the things that don’t appear on the stat sheet (diving for loose balls, setting screens and hard-nosed defense).
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin win the defensive battle?
There are a lot of similarities between Wisconsin and Arizona, as one commonality is both are strong defensive teams. With a game that could come down to who can keep the other offense in check the longest, the Badgers will need to deliver their best defensive effort of the season.
Wisconsin is holding teams to 57.2 points a game, 1.8 points per game better than Arizona. With a low scoring game expected, Wisconsin will have to be opportunistic offensively and get the ball into the post, as Arizona is holding team to 32.5 percent from 3-point range and only 5.2 makes per game.
With Arizona’s size, Wisconsin will have to be ready to play an aggressive game, similar to what it was last year. Wisconsin won’t be able to speed up Arizona on offense and consistently force them into taking bad shots. The Wildcats shoot 48.6 percent from the field and none of their starters shoot below 44 percent.
Part of the reason why Arizona has had success shooting such a high percentage is because they can have created high percentage shots. The Wildcats struggled against Xavier offensively because of their inability to create in the low post. Arizona scored only 18 points in the paint, which resulted in a 40.7 shooting percentage. Arizona is also average from the 3-point line, shooting 36 percent from three and finished 7-for-22 (31.8 percent) against the Musketeers.
Arizona averages 11 offensive rebounds a game. It’s an impressive number, but the Badgers successfully held North Carolina – one of the nation’s better offensive rebounding team – to nine second-chance opportunities. As long as Wisconsin can clog the lane and box out, the Wildcats’ offense will not be able to run efficiently or be able to reset off of misses.
One area where Arizona has struggled at times is taking care of the basketball, as they average 11.1 turnovers per game. Wisconsin only forces teams into 9.6 turnovers a game but will have opportunities to create plays if they can limit fouls. UW committed 18 fouls against the Tar Heels, which tied a season high. Stanley Johnson and T.J. McConnell lead the team in turnovers at 2.1 and two turnovers per game, respectively, and McConnell turned the ball over four times against Xavier.
On the flip side, even though Wisconsin doesn’t turn the ball over, Arizona has shown that they are capable of coming up with steals, averaging 7.3 steals a game. Wisconsin will have to make smart, solid passes and have solid communication. After Gasser and Koenig has 10 assists to one turnover against North Carolina, the two will be tested by McConnell, who leads Arizona with 2.1 steals a game.