MADISON – Nigel Hayes will admit that his shooting touch is still not where it needs to be in order to be a consistent scorer. So while he works on permanently ironing out the shooting wrinkles, Hayes is happy to take the role of Wisconsin’s lockdown defender, taking on opponents big or small.
“Great players inspire to play great on both sides of the ball,” said Hayes. “It’s definitely a task I enjoy.”
Hayes was certainly in the mix offensively and defensively for Wisconsin, which led by as many as 21 points in the second half on its way to a 76-60 victory over Temple at the Kohl Center.
Hayes scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for his third straight double-double for the Badgers (6-3), which followed up their overtime road win at No.14 Syracuse with an impressive performance over a veteran Temple squad for their best two-game stretch of the young season.
“It’s a work in progress every day,” said junior Zak Showalter, referring to UW’s defense that held Temple (3-4) to 37.9 percent shooting. “It’s mainly communication for us right now, just trying to figure each other out … We’ve come a long way, we’ve still got a lot of work to do but we’re getting there.”
Junior guard Bronson Koenig finished with 17 points (7-for-14 from the field), regaining his shooting touch after going 6-for-27 the previous two games, and Showalter finished with 11. The Badgers shot 46 percent from the field, 55 percent from 3-point range and outscored Temple 30-18 in the paint.
It’s part of the reason Hayes didn’t attempt a 3-pointer for the first time this season, as the junior was more than excited to take advantage of a clear height advantage.
“A lot of teams, so far it seems like they’re trying to do the same thing they did last year by putting a smaller guy on me, which I don’t know why people do that,” said Hayes. “I just try my best to take advantage of my height and size on the inside.”
Hayes was heavily involved on many of Wisconsin’s long scoring runs, scoring four points on a 12-2 run in the first half and assisting on a pair of buckets on a 10-0 run that followed soon after. He also delivered a put-back slam following a Showalter 3-pointer that injected energy into the building.
And when Temple regrouped coming out of the locker room to cut the lead to five, Hayes had six points, four rebounds and an assist on a 15-0 run that kept the lead over 14 for the remainder of the game.
But his biggest production came with his defense on Temple senior Quenton DeCosey, who entered the game as the team’s leading scorer with 15.5 points per game. Hayes held him to three points on only 1-for-6 shooting, being so effective that Temple eventually stopped running the offense through him.
“(Hayes) did a good job making (DeCosey) work for his shots,” said Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan. “We got him in foul trouble a couple times … I thought defensively we made them take some tough shots.”
It’s not the first time Hayes has proven himself to be able to guard quicker, talented guards, as he held Oklahoma All-American Buddy Hield to 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting last weekend.
Senior forward Jaylen Bond scored 12 points to lead the Owls, who were held to a season low in points.
“I’ve studied Bo’s teams so long,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “It’s not what they’ve had the last couple years … but they know how to play. They play together. Their defense was good the first half.”
Wisconsin’s youth flashed a good helping of potential in the first 20 minutes against a gritty Owls team whose three previous losses had all come to ranked teams on neutral sites. Six Badgers players scored six points for UW, which shot 41 percent in the opening half.
A chunk of that production came from Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas, who combined for 4-for-5 shooting and no turnovers in 18 first-half minutes with Ethan Happ (nine points) limited to 11 minutes and Vitto Brown (five) to four because of foul trouble. Thomas finished with nine points and six rebounds while Illikainen finished with six.
“Those guys were doing a nice job, especially with two guys sitting on the bench with two fouls,” Ryan said of the freshmen, who played only a combined 12 of 45 minutes in Wednesday’s win over Syracuse. “They were opportunistic. We’ve got to keep finding ways. I thought we did a good job of not giving up too many easy baskets at the rim, and those guys helped us there.”