Mary Langenfeld/USA Today Sports

Zak Showalter has another big game against Rutgers, scoring 18 points in a 72-52 victory

Zak Showalter - Wisconsin's scrappy senior - enjoys another big game against Rutgers, dropping 18 points and filling the stat sheet in the Badgers' 72-52 win to open conference play.

MADISON – There’s just something about seeing Rutgers on the visitors bench that sparks senior Zak Showalter

Nearly a year after scoring a career high against the Scarlet Knights, Showalter came up big again for No.14 Wisconsin with 18 points in the Badgers’ 72-52 victory at the Kohl Center.

Forward Nigel Hayes scored a game-high 20 points (10-for-10 free throws) for Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten), which extended its winning streak to eight games and won its Big Ten opener for the 13th time in the last 14 years.

Assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft – who had the scouting report – supposedly told the team to expect a “Rock Fight” from the defensive-minded Rutgers program. That sat well with the senior scrapper.

Showalter was the key factor in last year’s 79-57 victory Jan.2 in Madison, scoring 22 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting. That included 4-for-4 from 3-point range, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.

He didn’t equal the point plateau, but Showalter was an efficient 6-for-10 while adding four steals and three assists.

“In these types of games he thrives,” head coach Greg Gard said of Showalter. “He likes the physicality, he likes the mix it up, stick your nose in, get knocked around, knock some people around. He’s always been a guy that’s really thrived in that type of game.”

After averaging 6.4 points in the first 10 games of the season, Showalter is averaging 12.5 points on 60.7 percent shooting (17 of 28) over the last four games.

“Guys are just giving me the ball in good positions,” Showalter said. “That’s pretty easy to do with teammates like (Happ and Hayes). Guys have been collapsing on them and obviously that presents opportunities. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

On a night where things were choppy on offense and ball security was sloppy, Showalter appeared to be the one constant on both ends of the floor.

Wisconsin missed five 3-pointers, five free throws and committing five turnovers in the first half, but the Badgers jumped all over Rutgers (11-3, 0-1) with defense. Wisconsin forced eight of its 10 steals in the opening 20 minutes, including four in the first four minutes, 20 seconds to jump out to an 8-2 lead.

Showalter had two of the steals, leading a pair of fast breaks that he finished off with a bounce pass to Ethan Happ (10 points, 11 rebounds) for a dunk and another he cashed in himself.

“It shows how good we are as a whole,” Hayes said. “You can’t face guard or guard everyone.”

Rutgers started 2 of 17 from the field with seven turnovers in first 19 possessions. Although getting 17 offensive rebounds, Rutgers managed only 18 second-chance points and shot 30.6 percent. Rutgers also committed 15 turnovers that led to 18 Wisconsin points.

“We got off to a bad start,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “We turned the ball over 12 times (in the first half). We were helping them. They don’t need any help.”

Wisconsin played in front from that point forward and built a lead as big as 20 points in the early parts of the second half, although did make it interesting as the game started to draw to a close.

Led by Mike Williams’ 18 points and Nigel Johnson’s 11, the Scarlet Knights managed to cut the lead to nine and could have inched even closer.

But after an empty possession, Showalter made two of three free throws after being fouled by Corey Sanders, Ibrahima Diallo was too strong on a shot in the paint and Showalter made a layup at the other end to make it 57-44 with 6:38 left. UW led by at least 11 the rest of the way.

“We just hit a wall there,” Showalter said. “We’re still figuring it out. We got to be better on Tuesday when we play Indiana. We’ve got to be ready.”

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