Wisconsin was coming off one of its best shooting performances on the season against Ohio State and was playing a Michigan team allowing teams to shoot 53.4 percent from the field and 55.3 percent from three through five Big Ten games. UW was unable to take advantage for the most part, shooting 37.9 percent (11-for-29) from the field in the first half and missing seven of its first eight second-half shots before getting hot to finish the game shooting 45.3 percent (24-for-53) from the field.
Despite how poor Wisconsin shot the basketball over the first 28 minutes, the Badgers got a spark on a four-point possession from D'Mitrik Trice – his only points of the game. After missing the second of his two free throws, Trice leaked out to the corner and was fed the ball from Ethan Happ off the offensive rebound. Starting with that bucket, Wisconsin made 12 of its final 16 shots.
While Trice got the turnaround started, Bronson Koenig delivered the shots to put Wisconsin over the hump. Scoring 13 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, Koenig scored 10 consecutive points to erase Michigan’s final lead with less than six minutes to go.
Koenig was one of four players to reach double figures for Wisconsin as Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown both had 13 points and Ethan Happ had 11 points. Zak Showalter had all six of his points in the second half on 3-for-3 shooting.
Michigan entered the game leading the nation in the fewest fouls given at 14.2 fouls per game, but the Badgers’ ability to attack the interior of Michigan’s defense yielded big dividends. Both starting forwards D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner and starting guard Derrick Walton Jr. fouled out, and Wisconsin was in the bonus by the 14:26 mark in the second half. Wisconsin continued to struggle from the free throw line, shooting 14-for-24 (58.3 percent), but went 8-for-12 over the last 1:13 of the game to ice the game. With Wilson and Wagner dealing with foul trouble, Wisconsin had success attacking the paint and finished with 32 points down low.
Considering the shooting struggles the Badgers slogged through, UW was fortunate to finish with eight turnovers – its fourth straight game committing single digit turnovers. Michigan cashed Wisconsin’s mistakes into 13 points.
Wisconsin’s defense was a tale of two halves, allowing Michigan to shoot 32 percent (8-for-25) in the first half and 53.8 percent (14-for-26) in the second half. The Wolverines finished the game 22-for-51 (43.1 percent) from the field and 10-for-21 (47.6 percent) from three.
Michigan’s inability to buy a basket in a first half – going the final 7:16 without a made field goal – prevented the Wolverines from taking advantage of the cold shooting Wisconsin early on. With UW in a funk early in the second half, Michigan was able to go on a 17-4 run from 18:15 to 12:40 to turn a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
Despite starting the second half 6-for-8 from the field, however, Wisconsin responded and held Michigan to shoot 44.4 percent (8-for-18) from the field over the last 12:40.
Zak Irvin led Michigan with 20 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field as Walton was second with 15 points. Despite Wagner dealing with foul trouble he still managed to reach double figures with 10 points (2-for-7) by hitting six free throws. Duncan Robinson had 11 off the bench, but Wisconsin held Wilson scoreless.
Michigan’s frontcourt dealing with foul trouble allowed Wisconsin to prevent many second-chance opportunities or quality shots around the rum. The Wolverines finished with five offensive rebounds, which turned into seven points. The 16 points Wisconsin allowed in the paint was its fewest allowed through Big Ten play.
Wisconsin hasn’t been in many close games this year, so seeing the Badgers recover after falling down eight points early in the second half and down six points with 6:33 to go was impressive.
Trailing 49-43 advantage, head coach Greg Gard wisely took a 30 second timeout and saw his team respond with a 15-0 run to take the lead for good. Starting with a put back off an offensive rebound by Showalter, Koenig took over on his 10 point run to get Wisconsin over the hump. The Badgers went 7-for-10 from the field on their sprint back into the lead, but their defense held Michigan without a point for five straight possessions to really help the team seize control.
It was a team effort by Wisconsin to start slowing Michigan’s offense down later in the second half, but Happ and Showalter came up with a couple of critical stops. Showalter registered a block against Irvin, leading to a layup by Koenig to cut the deficit to 49-47. Happ registered both of his steals in the second half, the second off an inbounds play that resulted in a layup at the other end to continue chipping into the lead. Overall Wisconsin forced 10 turnovers that led to 11 points.
Outside Koenig, Brown really found a nice groove with his shot. He helped Wisconsin build its first half lead by scoring nine of points on 4-for-6 shooting, generating open looks for himself from the perimeter, driving to the basket or connecting on a hook shot. Brown finished the game 5-for-11 from the field with three rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Wisconsin got all nine of its bench points in the second half and all came from UW’s guards. Trice’s three was big to get the offense moving and three of Jordan Hill five points came from the free throw line. Between Trice, Hill and Alex Illikainen, they registered six of Wisconsin’s 32 rebounds.
Game MVP: Bronson Koenig. Koenig said after the game that he was frustrated by the lack of open looks against Michigan’s defense. But over a two minute, five second stretch Koenig was able to attack the rim and get open looks on the perimeter for a 10-0 run that was the game’s turning point. After only making one field goal attempt over the first 20 minutes, Koenig made the most of the second half by going 4-for-7 from the field and 2-for-3 from 3-point range. Maybe most importantly, Koenig knocked down two critical free throws with four seconds left to effectively ice the game. Koenig finished shooting 50 percent (5-for-10) from the field and collected four rebounds.