Wisconsin shot 53.4 percent through its first two tournament games and shooting a percentage in that ball park would gave the Badgers a chance to pull an upset over No.4 North Carolina. That wasn’t the case for Wisconsin, which simply couldn’t buy a basket against the Tar Heels and finished 38.2 percent (21-for-55) from the field.
Wisconsin didn’t help themselves by getting off to a slow start in the first half and only making eight field goals on 27 attempts. Making things worse, Wisconsin didn’t register its first make from the field until the 12:39 mark when D’Mitrik Trice knocked down a three. Wisconsin struggled to string together successful offensive possessions and failed to register an offensive rebound in the first half. UW managed only four offensive rebounds against North Carolina’s length, resulting in one point.
Without second chances, it wasn’t a surprise there was no success in the paint. The length by North Carolina seemed to bug Wisconsin on offense, limiting UW to only 16 points in the paint and forcing players to settle for jump shots instead of trying to establish the post.
UW’s big trio - Ethan Happ, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes – all struggled. Happ had 13 points on 6-for-12 shooting but he committed two traveling violations. Koenig finished a measly 1-for-13 shooting and didn’t hit his only bucket until the 18:50 mark of the second half. Hayes is capable of playing down low but too often played on the perimeter, evident by seven of his 11 attempts from the field coming from three. He finished the game 3-for-11 from the field, 1-for-7 from 3 and scored eight points, but played sloppy in other areas.
Wisconsin committed 11 turnovers, a decent number compared to past games but still instances where Wisconsin was careless with the ball. Koenig committed three turnovers for the second straight game and third of his last five. With Wisconsin struggling to score and the Tar Heels starting to surge on offense in the second half, the Badgers couldn’t afford to give away opportunities. UNC finished the game 11 points off of Wisconsin’s miscues.
North Carolina is a talented offensive team with plenty of players capable of hurting any defense on a given night. Wisconsin was able to contest shots in the first half, holding the Tar Heels to 37.9 percent (11-for-29), but that poor shooting quickly changed in the second half to North Carolina hitting 60.7 percent (17-for-28) from the field.
Wisconsin was going to have to play a near perfect game on defense if it wanted to win, but Wisconsin could only hold North Carolina’s offense down for so long, especially when Wisconsin gave free handouts.
It appeared Wisconsin was going to go into halftime down by six, but Hayes made a foolish decision and a bad foul on a Justin Jackson 3-point shot. Up to that point Jackson had been struggling with his shot (0-for-6 in the first half) but he knocked down all three of his attempts. The end of the first half served as a springboard for Jackson, as he shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half.
North Carolina finished the game shooting 28-for-57 (49.1 percent) from the field. Joel Berry led North Carolina in scoring with 22 points and was one of four players who reached double figures. One of the reasons why the Tar Heels shot such a good percentage was due to establishing the post and finishing with 36 points in the lane. It was a combination of players as to why the Tar Heels had that kind of success, but Kennedy Meeks feasted. Finished the game with 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, Meeks simply overpowered Wisconsin players at times to either collect the rebound or generate a high percentage shot.
Wisconsin was able to force the Tar Heels into 12 turnovers, eight coming off steals. Happ was able to display active hands and was able to cut off the passing lanes to generate four steals. UW failed to score points on three of Happ’s takeaways, however, a common theme considering the Badgers turned North Carolina miscues into just eight points.
It certainly was going to be a challenge to match-up with North Carolina’s size and athleticism, something UW was able to mostly do over the first 20 minutes. But the Heels turned things up to another level in the second half and Wisconsin simply didn’t have an answer for them.
Wisconsin needs its trio of scorers to deliver on every night to win big games. Happ shook off the two turnovers and played well but Koenig and Hayes struggled to do anything productive against the Tar Heels’ defense. It’s crystal clear that Wisconsin isn’t going to win many games if those three aren’t consistently playing well.
Vitto Brown led Wisconsin in scoring with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field. The second game this season in double figures, Brown did most of his damage on the perimeter, as he went 4-for-5 from three. Brown was the only player for Wisconsin to make multiple 3-point shot attempts. Brown has struggled to take care of the basketball at times this year but he only committed one turnover.
The bench for Wisconsin finished with 13 points as Gard played his usual rotation. Trice (eight), Brevin Pritzl (three) and Charles Thomas (two) accounted for the other production. The bench combined to shoot 4-for-10 from the field.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. One of the more efficient players for Wisconsin, Happ posted his second straight game in double figures. While unable to dominate the glass like he did against Georgetown, Happ tied with Khalil Iverson for the team lead in rebounds with six. Happ continued to demonstrate the ability to close off passing lanes or find a way to knock the ball loose without fouling. Happ also led the team in steals (four), assists (four) and blocks (two).