The way the game started against VCU compared to Georgetown was night and day. After missing its first nine shots against the Hoyas, Wisconsin came out on a much different note finishing the game 26-for-49 (53.1 percent) from the field, not to mention Wisconsin connected on its first five shots for a 13-4 lead. Wisconsin’s strong start allowed them to play with the lead for the majority of the first half.
Things started to change for Wisconsin’s offense over the last 11:11 of the first half, seeing a nine-point lead turn into a six-point halftime deficit. Over that stretch Wisconsin went 4-for-13 to end the first half and committed eight of its season high 17 turnovers. The only saving grace that helped Wisconsin in that stretch was they were able to go 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
Despite that poor stretch, Wisconsin was able to find a way to overcome it by putting four players in double figures. Scoring eight of UW’s first 19 points, Bronson Koenig led the way with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Ethan Happ was second on the team with his second straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Zak Showalter and Nigel Hayes each had 10 points on a combined 4-for-10 shooting from the field.
The 17 turnovers was very uncharacteristic of a Bo Ryan team, as the main issue was communication. There were different instances where a Wisconsin player cut in the wrong direction of where the pass was intended. VCU was able to take advantage of Wisconsin’s miscues by turning them into 18 points.
Even so, the turnovers didn’t seem to disrupt the offensive rhythm in the second half, as Wisconsin kept attacking the rim that resulted in either lay ups or getting to the free throw line. UW finished the game 17-for24 (70.8 percent) from the charity stripe, scored 32 points in the paint and generated open looks on the perimeter, finishing 5-for-10 from 3-point range.
Wisconsin knew they were going to have to slow Melvin Johnson down and made sure that he didn’t find a way to consistently attack the basket. Although Johnson led VCU with 21 points, he needed 18 attempts to get there. The defense by Wisconsin’s backcourt did enough to bother him and make sure he didn’t consistently get off a clean shot on offense. Korey Billsbury was second on the team with 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting off the bench.
The combination of Koenig and Showalter was good on Johnson, but the post defense continues to be a struggle. VCU finished the game with 30 points in the paint, and Ahmad Hamdy-Mohamed was the main reason for the Rams’ success down low, finishing the game with 13 points. Hamdy-Mohamed was really good at consistently finding ways of drawing contact as he went up with a shot in the post. Unfortunately for him he only made one of his five free throw attempts.
With Wisconsin’s frontcourt again being hampered with foul trouble (Vitto Brown fouled out for the second straight game and Happ had four), Ryan had to trust in freshman Charlie Thomas providing a bigger punch off the bench than his unmemorable six minutes against Georgetown Friday. While Thomas also battled foul trouble (four), his nine points, five rebounds and two blocks were a result of using his size to create positioning down low.
The aggressive defensive style payed off with nine VCU turnovers, which included four steals and three courtesy of Showalter. His most critical steal came in the second half when he forced Johnson (three turnovers) into a turnover that led way to a layup and a four-point lead. Wisconsin finished the game with three points off of the Rams’ turnovers.
It started to look a little grim for Wisconsin early in the second half after VCU had erased Wisconsin’s lead and had the momentum squarely on its side. But a technical foul by Ryan with his team down by three at the 16 minute media timeout seemed to be the spark Wisconsin needed. Before the technical, the first and third offensive possession resulted in turnovers by Koenig. After that point Wisconsin went 9-for-18 from the field and shot 12-for-22 (54.5 percent) in the second half.
In particular the defense started to step up after seeing VCU shoot 51.5 (17-for-33) from the field. That number took a significant dip over the last 20 minutes, as Wisconsin put the clamps down defensively, consistently contested shots and held VCU to 32.1 percent shooting (9-for-28). Overall Wisconsin was able to hold VCU to 26-for-61 (42.6 percent) shooting from the field in the game.
Wisconsin’s offense attacked the glass and was rewarded with 11 offensive rebounds (although it ended up only six second-chance points) and won the rebounding battle 39-30. VCU finished with 14 offensive rebounds, but UW limited them to six second-chance points.
Both Showalter (all 10 of his points in the second half) and Happ (seven second half points) stepped up. Showalter was able to provide the energy Wisconsin needed in the second half and was able to provide smart plays. In his 18 minutes in the second half, he went 2-for-3 from the field, made all six of his free three attempts, grabbed two offensive and two defensive rebounds, three steals, three assists and had one block.
Koenig will get the attention because of the game winning shot but Wisconsin came back thanks to the balanced game Showalter played.
Game MVP: Bronson Koenig. Koenig started the game strong and shook off a tough shooting night against Georgetown. He was aggressive throughout and was able to create the necessary separation to create space for a shot. Wisconsin fans saw on his game winning layup the ability to beat his defender off the dribble to get to the rim for a layup. Koenig had three turnovers but also had three assists and the defense he played against Johnson was important for Wisconsin’s success