It didn’t seem possible that Wisconsin could put together a worst shooting performance than its night against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament. Unfortunately the shooting woes that plagued Wisconsin in Indianapolis traveled with them to St. Louis in the first half. Wisconsin shot 6-for-24 (25 percent) from the field and only 2-for-4 from the line, resulting in the fewest points Wisconsin has scored in the first half this season (16).
But with Wisconsin down 20-8 with 5:37 to go in the half, Wisconsin was able to start turning things around on offense. Starting with an 8-2 run to close the half, UW’s run carried over into the second half, resulting in a 19-6 run and the team’s first lead of the game.
But Wisconsin’s first lead lasted only 25 seconds, setting the stage for a second half that featured seven lead changes. Whenever Wisconsin’s offense was able to take a lead over the Panthers, the Badgers found themselves back in a deficit by failing to get a defensive stop or string together shots.
However, the aggressiveness of Ethan Happ in the opening and closing minutes of the second half and some timely 3-pointers by Vitto Brown allowed UW to overcome a rough night shooting from its two star players.
Happ had a game-high 15 points and was easily the most efficient player for the Badgers on offense, shooting 6-for-8 from the field. Brown added 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting, including going 3-for-5 on 3-pointers. Outside of Brown, UW went 1-for-14 from three.
Nigel Hayes finished with 12 points but shot 3-for-17 (17.6 percent) from the field, getting his points by going 6-for-8 from the free throw line. Bronson Koenig scored two points (1-for-8) and saw his streak of 43 straight games with a 3-pointer end.
Wisconsin finished the game shooting 17-for-53 (32.1 percent) from the field but its aggressiveness in the second half got the Badgers in the bonus with 15:06 to go in the second half. Wisconsin went 7-for-11 from the free throw line in the second half and 9-for-15 overall from the charity stripe.
Wisconsin’s offense didn’t give itself many opportunities to extend possessions with only three offensive rebounds, its first not coming until the 7:48 mark in the first half. That started to change in the second half as Wisconsin tripled that number to nine, helping lead to 18 second-chance points and winning the rebounding battle 37-36.
With the offense out of sync, the Badgers’ defense had to find a way to string defensive possessions together to make sure Pittsburgh couldn’t run away with the game. Holding Pittsburgh to only eight field goals on 21 attempts in the second half certainly helped the Badgers stay within striking distance.
Only four players for Pittsburgh made a field goal in the second half. While leading-scorer Michael Young led the way with three makes, he finished with only six points – 10 under his season average. Jamel Artis was the only Panther in double figures with 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting. Sheldon Jeter was second with nine points off the bench, as Pittsburgh shot 18-for-48 (37.5 percent) from the field.
Head coach Greg Gard should be happy with how his team responded defending James Robinson. After scoring six of Pitt’s first 10 points, Robinson only had one point the rest of the game, holding him to 0-for-7 in the second half and 3-for-15 from the game.
What hurt Wisconsin’s defense early in the first half was consistently allowed Pittsburgh to generate productive post touches. The Panthers’ first 10 points came in the paint and 16 of Pittsburgh’s 22 first-half points came around the hoop. That changed in the second half with Wisconsin doing a much better job of forcing Pittsburgh into lower percentage shots. Pitt only had eight points in the paint after halftime and shot 3-for-11 (27.3 percent) from three in the game.
It also helped that Wisconsin was able to play strong defense down low without fouling, as Wisconsin only committed 11 team fouls. The Panthers went only 4-for-7 from the free throw line.
It wasn’t a pretty but Wisconsin found a way despite scoring a season-low 47 points. The Badgers will need to shoot much before moving forward, but the Badgers delivered with some big shots in the clutch and got a little luck, as Robinson couldn’t get hit point-blank shot to fall after coming into contact with Young in the paint.
Grabbing the rebound and being fouled, Happ made the first and missed the second, but Hayes corralled the rebound off the miss. As a result, he was fouled and knocked down both of his free throws to ice the game.
It was a team effort by Wisconsin to get back in the game. UW started making its run on the defensive side of the floor by limiting the good looks the Panthers saw over the last 7:58 of the game, holding them to 3-for-10 shooting. It also helped that Wisconsin was able to find a way to force the Panthers into 10 turnovers that translated into 15 points.
Ranking 14th in the NCAA in assists (16.9 apg.), Pitt only had six against UW.
Wisconsin generated six steals off of the turnovers, including two steals by Happ that gave him at least one steal in 26 straight games. Koenig may have scored a season-low two points but he finished with zero turnovers for the seventh game this season. Wisconsin finished with six turnovers that led to only five Pitt points.
Charlie Thomas’ two points were the only bench production for Wisconsin. He only played four minutes off the bench but was able to grab two of the five bench rebounds and provided a spark in the first half with the offense struggling.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. Happ’s N.C.A.A. tournament debut was a success, leading Wisconsin in scoring for the seventh time this season as also leading the way with 9 rebounds in 31 minutes. Like the rest of Wisconsin’s offense in the first half, Happ got off to a slow start (1-for-2 ) but started becoming more aggressive in the second half (5-for-6). He found ways of drawing fouls (going 3-for-7), registered three assists, two steals and one block.