Wisconsin's strong starts paves the way for a 62-49 win over struggling Minnesota

BadgerNation analyzes the game and hands out the grades from Wisconsin's 62-49 win over Minnesota Wednesday.

Offense: B

Little went wrong for Wisconsin’s offense in the first half, able to consistently drive the ball and finish offensive possessions with a layup or an open shot. Bronson Koenig was facilitating Wisconsin’s offense masterfully by attacking the rim and finding open teammates on the perimeter for jump shots. Wisconsin went 5-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half.

But after shooting 55.2 percent (16-for-29) in the first half, the Badgers’ best shooting first half since the Rutgers game Jan. 3 (56.3 percent), the offense’s efficiency went missing coming out of the locker room. Over the last 20 minutes, Wisconsin went 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) from the field and finished the game 24-for-52 (46.2 percent).

Although Wisconsin’s offense clicked in the first 20 minutes, they did go through one minor scoring drought that lasted 3:54 by going 0-for-6 from the field. But after Vitto Brown knocked down a long two to put Wisconsin up 17-11, the Badgers started rolling and scored on their next nine offensive possessions to help build a 16-point halftime lead.

It appeared the strong shooting was going to carry over to the second half, as Wisconsin started 5-for-7 from the field. But after a dunk by Khalil Iverson put Wisconsin up 21 points with 14:53 to go, UW’s next field goal didn’t come until the 5:56 mark – going 0-for-8 in that stretch and generated only two points off four free throw attempts.

The troubles in the second half for Wisconsin stemmed from not being able to consistently touch the post (10 of Wisconsin’s 26 points in the paint came in the second half) and committing eight of its 11 turnovers, which Minnesota converted into 10 points. During a scoring drought that lasted close to 10 minutes, too often Wisconsin settled for poor shots from the perimeter early in the shot clock and couldn’t generate production off offensive rebounds.

In total Wisconsin had three players score in double figures. Koenig led the way with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. Brown and Happ each had 12 points on a combined 10-for-21 from the field. Happ also registered 10 rebounds, giving him his ninth double-double this season. Zak Showalter had eight points and Nigel Hayes registered six points.     

Even though Wisconsin had 11 offensive rebounds, the Badgers could only turn the second chances into five points.

Defense: B+

The good news for Wisconsin in the second half was Minnesota couldn’t buy a basket either. The Gophers shot 10-for-28 (35.7 percent) in the second half and finished the game 16-for-48 (33.3 percent). During Wisconsin’s prolonged scoring drought, Minnesota went 5-for-13 from the field. Before Brown made a three to get UW’s offense back on track, Minnesota couldn’t get closer than 11 points.

With leading scorer Nate Mason suspended, the Gophers couldn’t develop any kind of offensive rhythm. Stephon Sharp and Jordan Murphy were the only two players to score in double figures, finishing with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Murphy shot 7-for-12 from the field compared to the 4-for-11 by Sharp. The next closest player in points was Joey King, who finished the game with six points but went 1-for-9 from the field and 0-for-5 from three.

Wisconsin’s defense did do a good job of taking away perimeter shots (3-for-17) but struggled at times preventing easy looks in the low post. Minnesota finished with 20 points in the paint. Wisconsin also allowed Minnesota to grab 12 offensive rebounds, but the Badgers made sure they couldn’t consistently convert those opportunities, as they finished the game with six points.

In addition to Minnesota struggling from the field, Wisconsin forced its opponent into double digit turnovers for the 11th straight game. The Gophers’ 13 turnovers – which included six UW steals - turned into 15 Wisconsin points.

Sometimes the gambles didn’t pay off, as Wisconsin was whistled for 20 team fouls that led to Minnesota going 14-for-21 from the free throw line.

Overall: B

A sloppy second half didn’t ruin Wisconsin’s hot-shooting performance in the first half, getting them to 20 wins for the 10th straight season. Had UW shot in the first half like they did in the second half, the game would have been a lot closer than what the final score indicated.

No one for Wisconsin established the same kind of offensive rhythm they played with in the first half, especially Koenig. The junior was a big reason for Wisconsin’s offensive success in the early going, as he was able to consistently beat his man off the dribble or create the space he needed to get an open shot. That resulted in 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting and 2-for-3 from 3-point range, not to mention five assists.

All that changed in the second half, as Koenig stopped attacking off the dribble and have trouble looking for his shot, so much so that Koenig didn’t even attempt a field goal in the second half. He managed only two points from the free throw and registered just one assist.

Only five Badgers made a field goal in the second half, two of which came off of the bench. Iverson (six points) and Jordan Hill (four) scored all of Wisconsin’s bench points. Iverson could have easily had eight points, but his decision to go for an open windmill dunk following a steal backfired after losing the grip on the ball. After the ball rolled out of bounce, Iverson was quickly taken out of the game for a teaching moment.

While Charlie Thomas and Alex Illikainen combined to go 0-for-3 from the field (all on 3-point attempts), the two each had a defensive rebound and registered a block. Wisconsin finished with six blocks in the game.

Game MVP: Vitto Brown. Wisconsin needed someone to manufacture some offense to end its scoring droughts and both times it was Brown who came up with a timely field goal in each half. Brown finished with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the field, as well as registering six rebounds (helping UW tie the rebounding battle at 34), two assists and a steal. 

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