MADISON – Green Bay head coach Linc Darner knew he had to play the percentages against a team like Wisconsin.
With the Badgers having good perimeter shooters and mismatch problems in the low post, the Phoenix head coach decided to double the low post and leave struggling perimeter shooter Zak Showalter open and roll the dice. The plan backfired.
Showalter tied his career-high with four 3-pointers and was one of three players in double figures in No.14 Wisconsin’s 73-59 victory over the Phoenix Wednesday.
“When playing them you’ve got to pick your poison,” Darner said. “What are you going to give up? We didn’t want to give him wide-open threes, and he hit them. He came out almost like he knew … we weren’t going to come out and guard him. He just caught it in rhythm.”
The production of Hayes and Happ has been expected (the duo now have a combined 17 double-digit scoring games), but Showalter had been stuck in a shooting funk.
Of the four starters who had attempted at least one 3-point field goal this season, Showalter’s 28.6 percent was the lowest among the four. With Green Bay (4-6) paying attention to the low post, Showalter went 4-for-6 from 3-point range, including 3-for-4 in the first half to help the Badgers build a lead it never relinquished.
“They doubled down off of me pretty much every time Ethan caught it,” Showalter said. “It’s just good to see the ball go through and it felt really good tonight.”
While his 3-point marksmanship helped give Wisconsin an early lead, Showalter’s quick hands helped extend it in the second half. Subbed in with the Badgers on a 6-0 run, Showalter delivered a layup, a steal and a steal that turned into a fast-break layup on three straight possessions. The 12-0 run gave the Badgers a 57-36 lead with 8:41 left. UW led by double digits the rest of the way.
“We’ve been working just getting in gaps ad nauseam in practice pretty much for the last three months,” Showalter said, finishing with a career-high six steals. “It’s something Coach Gard has really stressed.”
The last game before final exams featured a sharp contrast of styles. Green Bay’s 80.3 possessions per game ranked seventh in the country, while Wisconsin’s 67.8 possessions landed them 335th out of 347 division 1 teams.
The Badgers won that battle, holding Green Bay to 33 possessions in the first half and 36 in the second. Wisconsin hit its mark with 68 possessions and 1.04 points per possession.
The Wisconsin offense was at its best when they were sharing the ball. Guilty of over dribbling and not having much movement at times, Wisconsin finished with 18 assists on 27 field goals, including 11 assists on 12 first-half field goals.
“When we move the ball and we cut, and we screen well, we’re a lot harder to guard than when we over dribble,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said.
Kerem Kanter (15.7 ppg). Charles Cooper (13.7 ppg), Trevor Anderson (10.7 ppg) and Jamar Hurdle (10.3 ppg) are were averaging double figures on the first three games of Green Bay’s current four game road trip.
Only Kanter (team-high 18 points) hit the average, as Cooper (four fouls), Anderson (1-for-6) and Hurdle (1-for-4) were neutralized by Wisconsin playing its tempo.
“I thought we were very good at times and made life hard, specifically for Cooper and Anderson, two guys we tried to bottle up as much as possible,” Gard said. “Team wise, I think we did a pretty good job defensively.”
With the Phoenix never able to increase the pace or effectively trap in the backcourt, Wisconsin’s experienced squad committed only nine turnovers after having a gaudy 26 a year ago.
“I think Wisconsin is really good,” Darner said. “They’re hard to guard. They’ve got so many different mismatches they could go to, and we struggled with that. I think they exploited a few of our guys. I think that was pretty evident down the stretch.”
Trailing 12-11 early, Wisconsin’s 14-2 run shook the cobwebs out to give the Badgers a comfortable working margin. And while UW splashing three 3-pointers helped the score increase quickly, the fact that Happ hit an unguarded jumper just inside the 3-point line – unofficially his first made bucket outside the paint in his career – was a welcomed boost.
Happ’s 10 rebounds gave him his fifth double-double of the season and he added a career-high six assists, but it was his mid-range shot that Bronson Koenig joked made the Kohl Center the loudest it’s been all season.
“It was nice to not have to run the length of the floor for once,” Happ said. “Every time I’m in there when I score the ball, I’m always down the floor, so it was nice to have a few less steps.”