Wisconsin wraps up its seven game homestand by hosting Rutgers Saturday afternoon

Looking to finish its seven game homestand with a winning record, Wisconsin looks for its first conference win when it hosts Rutgers Saturday afternoon. BadgerNation analyzes the matchup.

Rutgers (6-8, 0-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (8-6, 0-1 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Saturday, January 2, 1 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – Big Ten Network (Wayne Randazzo and Stephanie White)

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 3-1 (Wisconsin leads 1-0 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Rutgers won, 67-62, on January 11, 2015, in Piscataway, N.J.

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.7 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 16.3 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 10.9 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.9 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.9 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 0.7 ppg)

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.9 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.3 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Illikainen scored a career-high 10 points vs. Purdue and is averaging 15.0 mpg over the last two contests. He is 10-for-18 from the field this season, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range.

RUTGERS PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Corey Sanders (6-2 Freshman Guard, 14.2 ppg)

5 Mike Williams (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 11.1 ppg)

22 D.J. Foreman (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 7.8 ppg)

31 Omari Grier (6-4 Senior Guard, 6.4 ppg)

35 Greg Lewis (6-9 Senior Center, 4.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

2 Bishop Daniels (6-3 Senior Guard, 9.1 ppg)

4 Jonathan Laurent (6-6 Freshman Forward, 6.5 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Sanders, the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, leads Big Ten freshmen in scoring (14.2) and steals (1.6), and is second in assists (3.6).

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – Possessing a frontcourt full of behemoths, Purdue’s ability to pound the paint offensively and alter countless shots against an undersized Wisconsin was the difference in a 61-55 victory for the Boilermakers at the Kohl Center.

Nigel Hayes scored 17 points to lead Wisconsin (8-6, 0-1 Big Ten), which saw its streak of 12 straight conference-opening wins snapped. But at least the Badgers went down fighting, giving a small sense of accomplishment for a young team trying to build a foundation.

“Were we going to be in position to do what the upper echelon teams in the Big Ten do?” associated head coach Greg Gard said. “That’s a 12-round, rock-fight-type of game. I thought for the most part … that we battled, and that was the biggest thing that I wanted to see. How was this group going to respond, and they went toe-to-toe with a really good team.”

Six days after 26 turnovers nearly blew a 30-point lead for Wisconsin in a home game against Green Bay, Wisconsin overcame a height – and arguably a talent gap – to push a Purdue (13-1, 1-0) team picked to compete with Maryland and Michigan State for the 2016 Big Ten title by bringing a large helping of grit and tenacity.

Problem was the Badgers couldn’t sustain their success, especially in the low post.

With no experienced low post player outside Hayes in the rotation, Purdue’s persistence to work the ball inside paid off big in the second half. Purdue scored 18 second-half points in the paint (10 in the first 6:48) and got the Badgers into the double bonus at 7:32. That led to Purdue making more free throws (12) than UW attempted (eight).

Purdue finished with 34 points in the paint and out rebounded Wisconsin, 36-26, the first time this season the Badgers have been beaten on the glass.

Averaging 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds through his first 62 Big Ten games, A.J. Hammons scored a game-high 24 points and was the only Purdue player in double figures. Purdue did get eight points from 6-8 forward Vince Edwards, nine rebounds from freshman Caleb Swanigan and four assists from P.J. Thompson, who fed Hammons on post touches on consecutive possessions to help Purdue build a 48-37 lead – the largest of the game- with 5:56 remaining.

But despite the problems, and scoring droughts still creeping into the offense, the Badgers didn’t fold.

Almost a week after little-used Jordan Hill made his presence felt in Wisconsin’s rotation, the Badgers got a huge lift from Alex Illikainen. One of the players tasked with trying to muscle the 7-0, 250-pound A.J. Hammons, Illikainen scored eight of his career-high 10 points in a 3:09 stretch in the second half, production that came with his first 3-pointers since Nov.17 and a jumper from the corner that cut the lead to 52-49 with 1:40 to go.

The enjoyment was short lived, as guard Dakota Mathias – averaging 4.5 points off the bench – hit a 3-pointer in the corner in front of a charging Zak Showalter. One possession later he hit another one from the Purdue bench to silence the crowd, and UW never got closer than five.

LAST MEETING

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Frank Kaminsky on the bench turned out to be a big problem for the University of Wisconsin.

Without the 7-foot center’s presence in the middle of the lane, Rutgers – the worst shooting team in the conference - shot 66.7 percent in the second half to erase a double-digit deficit to shock the fourth-ranked Badgers, 67-62, at the RAC.

Last in the league in scoring (54.0), field goal percentage (38.1) and 3-point percentage (28.8) and free throw percentage (59.7), Rutgers (10-7, 2-2 Big Ten) shot as high as 78.6 percent in the second half, made five straight 3-pointers after halftime and scored 20 points on its first 11 possessions.

The Scarlet Knights also were clutch from the free throw line in shooting 80 percent, helping them outscore Wisconsin (15-2, 3-1) 44-27 in the second half.

And while Rutgers continued to stay hot, the Badgers couldn’t buy a bucket. UW went nearly seven minutes without a field goal during the last half of the second half and shot 23.8 percent from 3-point range for the game, including missing five of its final six 3-point attempts.

UW had a ton of open looks but couldn’t find the bottom of the net. Gasser led the Badgers shooting 45.1 percent from 3-point range and Dekker was second at 37.5, but the duo combined to go 0-for-9 from 3-point range.

The Badgers also didn’t cash in from the free throw line to disrupt Rutgers’ momentum, going 9-for-16 for the game and 6-for-12 in the second half.

Wisconsin defended Myles Mack well in the first half, holding the senior to 1-for-6 shooting, but couldn’t contain him in the second half in scoring 19 of his game-high 21 points. Kadeem Jack added 20 – making them the only two players in double figures to help the score register the biggest upset in school history, surpassing its win over No. 6 West Virginia in 1982.

SERIES NOTES

Rutgers has visited Madison just once, with the Badgers winning a 55-43 decision on Nov. 29, 2003 as part of a home-and-home series in 2003 and 2004.

The two teams met just once last season as Rutgers was one of just two Big Ten teams to beat the Badgers.

The Badgers held a 12-point halftime edge, but Rutgers shot 66.7% (16-24) in the second half, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

WISCONSIN NOTES

UW has won 11 straight home games against unranked Big Ten teams dating back to January 2014.

The Badgers have limited their last 5 opponent to an average of 61.7 ppg and a combined 39.0 percent shooting (32.3 percent 3FGs).

Four different players have led UW in scoring this season and 8 different players have scored at least 10 points in a game. Every player in Wisconsin’s rotation has set a new career high for points this season.

UW leads the Big Ten and rank 26th in the NCAA with 14.1 offensive rebounds per game. Overall, the Badgers have grabbed 68 more offensive boards than their opponents (197-129).

RUTGERS NOTES

Since backup center Ibrahima Diallo went out with an injury, Lewis has seen both his workload and production increase. In the past four games, Lewis has averaged 28.3 minutes, 7.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

Grier has combined to score 42 points the last two games, more than he scored in the first 11 games combined. He is 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) on three-pointers in the last two games.  

Playing with a limited lineup due to three frontcourt injuries, RU matched the Hoosiers, 18-18, on the boards in the opening half. The visitors used their size advantage after the break, however, to grab 14 more rebounds than Rutgers.

Eddie Jordan is one of five Division I head men’s basketball coaches at their alma mater who also competed in the NBA. The others are Bryce Drew (Valparaiso), Chris Mullen (St. John’s), Kevin Ollie (Connecticut) and Lorenzo Romar (Washington).

PREDICTION

The final outcome Tuesday was expected but the manner in which the Badgers lost to No.14 Purdue was anything but. Yes, the Badgers struggled to defend the paint and penetrate into the low post for easy buckets, but Wisconsin fought for 40 minutes and pushed Purdue defensively with a scrappy effort fans haven’t seen to that degree this season. UW hung with a good Purdue team despite shooting below 40 percent, which should be commended.

If UW plays that way for the next 17 Big Ten games, Greg Gard will be in great position to be named the permanent head coach because UW will be above .500 in Big Ten play.

Rutgers is susceptible to many things – gritty rebounding teams, ball pressure and transition offense. While the transition offense is not there, UW does the first two things well, having outrebounded the first 13 opponents and been able to create a respectable 11.6 turnovers per game.

It also doesn’t help that the Scarlet Knights are banged up in the front court, as sophomore center Shaquille Doorson (left foot) and redshirt freshman center Ibrahima Diallo (fractured right foot) are out indefinitely. This should make things much easier for UW in the low post than they were against Purdue.

The key for the Badgers is to contain Sanders, who can attack the rim, handles the ball well, quick off the dribble and finishes strong. UW has had problems with those quick guards this season, and Johnson is more than capable of taking over a game.

This is a game UW has to have for many reasons. Based on what I saw against Purdue, I think UW can deliver a good performance and register a 16-point victory.

Worgull's Record: 9-5

Points off Prediction: 162 (11.6 per game)


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