Wisconsin’s offense was dominant in the first half on its way to registering its best shooting half of the season, shooting 56.3 percent from the field on 18-for-32 shooting from the field. The Badgers struck a balance on offense by registering 16 of their 42 points in the paint, shot 5-for-9 (55.6 percent) from 3-point range and had a total of eight players score in the first half.
Due to Rutgers being undersized in the frontcourt, Wisconsin was able to establish the post early in the game, scoring the first five points around the rim and getting Ethan Happ in a groove early.
But no matter how well Wisconsin plays in one half on offense, the question is always can it carry over? Against Rutgers, the Badgers continued to display its inconsistencies, as UW scored only three points – all on field goals - over the first 7:23 minutes of the half. UW started 0-for-7 before Zak Showalter attacked the rim on a made layup, drew a foul and completed the 3-point play.
The way Showalter played on offense, it should be no surprise that he was the spark that creating scoring runs. Showalter scored a career-high 21 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting from the field, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range, for his sixth game this season in double figures. The penetration into the low post caused Rutgers’ defense to collapse and allowed for easy kickouts to a wide-open Showalter.
Despite starting 0-for-7 from the field to begin the second, UW finished the half 13-for-19 (68.4 percent) and finished the game 31-for-58 (53.4 percent) from the field. After scoring only two points against Purdue, Happ finished with 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field. Like Happ, Bronson Koenig broke a mini-scoring slump by registering 14 points on 6-for-12. Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown each finished with eight points on a combined 5-for-16 shooting from the field.
Wisconsin didn’t have many chances for offensive rebounds due to its high shooting percentage, but the Badgers finished the game with eight offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points. This was the first game where Rutgers hasn’t allowed an opponent to register double-digit offensive rebounds.
Wisconsin consistently made it difficult for the Rutgers offense to get anything established, limiting the Scarlet Knights to 39.7 percent on 23-for-58 shooting from the field. Only two players for Rutgers reached double figures, as Mike Williams was the lone offensive player to get into a rhythm and finished with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Bishop Daniels was second with 11 points.
Part of the reason Rutgers struggled was the lack of second-chance opportunities. Rutgers didn’t register its first offensive rebound until the 16:41 mark of the second half, which resulted in its only points off an offensive rebound. Allowing Rutgers to grab only four offensive rebounds, it was the ninth time this season Wisconsin allowed single digit offensive rebounds in a game and the fewest since UW’s Elite Eight win last season over Arizona (three).
Wisconsin built an 11-point lead going into halftime but Rutgers cut the lead to four twice within the first 6:20 of the second half. UW’s defense allowed Rutgers to come out shooting 7-for-15 from the field, but eventually clamped down to holding Rutgers to 3-for-14 the rest of the way, including no made field goals over the final 4:32.
For a fifth straight game Wisconsin forced double-digit turnovers. Of Rutgers’ 10 turnovers, Wisconsin registered six steals, including one by every starter except Vitto Brown. UW finished the game with 18 points off miscues.
With Rutgers having an undersized frontcourt in part due to injuries, the Scarlet Knights scored only 24 points in the paint and were out rebounded 37-25. UW’s height also led to four blocks, as Koenig was the lone starter who didn’t register a block.
It was quite an impressive bounce back performance from the Purdue loss, considering the Badgers took control of the game early and overcome a poor start after halftime to eventually take control of the game again in the second half … thanks to Showalter. Showalter’s old-fashioned 3-point play ignited Wisconsin from its slow start and a 3-pointer just over two minutes later started an 11-0 run to build an 18-point lead that opened the game up.
Happ also had a good bounce-back game with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes for his Big Ten-leading fifth double-double of the season. While Happ did pick up three fouls that limited some of his first-half minutes, Happ was able to move well without the ball and his teammates were able to find him. Wisconsin finished the game with 14 assists, 11 of which came in the first half.
Wisconsin has struggled from 3-point range this season, entering the game hitting just 33.3 percent of its shots, but finished 8-for-18 (44.4 percent) from three point range. Showalter, Hill and Koenig all made a 3-pointers. Koenig’s two 3-pointers extended his streak to 26 games with a made 3-pointer.
For the second straight game Wisconsin committed single-digit turnovers (nine), even though things appeared sloppy a times. There were two occasions UW committed turnovers on back-to-back offensive possessions. Those plays allowed Rutgers to stay close early (converting the turnovers into 11 points) but the last turnover came at the 9:41 mark in the second half as Wisconsin was starting to build its lead.
Wisconsin’s bench was able to reach double-digit points for a third straight game, finishing with 12 points on a combined 5-for-14 shooting. Hill led the way with six points on a couple of 3-pointers, while Khalil Iverson, Alex Illikainen and Jordan Smith all had two points.
Game MVP: Zak Showalter. Plain and simple, Showalter was perfect for Wisconsin. He didn’t miss a field goal attempt and was able to find ways to spark the run in the second half to help give UW a double-digit lead for good. Rutgers being undersized in the lane opened up lanes for Showalter to drive and he hit the kickout passes from his teammates. Showalter scored 10 points in the first half and 11 in the second, marking the third and fourth time this year he has scored in double figures in one half. Showalter also finished the game with three rebounds, two assist, one block, one steal and drew his 12th defensive charge of the season.