After the struggles Wisconsin had shooting on Saturday, the Badgers were able to curtail the problems at the start, starting the game 10-for-14 from the field and building a 16-point lead before closing the half 4-for-19 (21.1 percent) from the field. Overall Wisconsin finished the game 24-for-59 (40.7 percent) with Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes the lone Wisconsin players to reach double figures. Happ scored 14 points and shot the ball effectively for the second straight game, going 7-for-11, and registering his eighth double-double on the year with a team-high 13 rebounds. Hayes added 11 points and eight rebounds, while Bronson Koenig (nine) and Zak Showalter (eight) also provided substantial production.
As good as Happ was on the glass, he particularly was impressive on the offensive glass with a game-high six offensive rebounds. Happ’s ability to collect missed Wisconsin shots was key in allowing the Badgers to keep offensive possessions alive and forcing Illinois to play sustained defense. Overall Wisconsin finished the game with 19 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points. Happ wasn’t the only player for to have success on the offensive glass, as Wisconsin’s starting frontcourt all had at least two offensive rebounds in the game and reserve Aaron Moesch had three in the final 1:41 of the first half.
Wisconsin’s offense had its struggles when Illinois went to zone, going eight consecutive empty possessions to zap the rhythm it had established early in the game. With Wisconsin shooting 7-for-23 (30.4 percent) from three, the Badgers weren’t able to shoot Illinois out of the zone. Showalter and Khalil Iverson (six points) were the lone two Badgers to connect on at least two threes, as Showalter went 2-for-4 from three and Iverson knocked down both of his attempts.
Showalter’s second three in particular was big for Wisconsin, ending a 5-0 Illinois run that had cut the UW lead to 42-36. From that point, Wisconsin closed the game shooting 6-for-12 from the field and sustain a double-digit lead for the final nine minutes.
Wisconsin’s defense was terrific in making sure the Illini never got into a flow offensively. The Badgers held Illinois to a season-low in points and field-goal percentage (27.6 percent on 16-for-58), the third time Wisconsin has held its opponent to 28 percent or less shooting this season.
Malcolm Hill and Maverick Morgan both scored 10 points to lead Illinois, but Hill - who had been shooting the basketball effectively entering the game – went only 4-for-14. Morgan went 4-for-8 but no other Illini made more than two field goals.
After Illinois had cut the lead to six, in part because UW started 4 of 14 shooting, the Badgers held Illinois without a field goal (0-for-8) for six minutes, 19 seconds and just 2-for-14 the remainder of the game.
While Illinois was able to crash the glass and get 16 offensive rebounds, 12 coming in the second half, the Badgers – like they have done throughout the season - made sure they didn’t allow their opponent to cash in on their second chances. Despite 16 chances, Illini had just six second chance points.
Wisconsin was able to limit paint touches and hold Illinois to 16 points inside and force 10 turnovers that led to 13 points, all things that kept Illinois struggling from the field.
Head coach Greg Gard played 10 players and all made some kind of contribution in the win. In particular Gard has to be pleased with what he received from his bench. The reserves have been inconsistent at times, but Iverson, D'Mitrik Trice, Jordan Hill, Charles Thomas and Moesch combined to play a productive 50 minutes on the floor.
Thomas has struggled this year and played just six minutes, but he maximized his time with two points, two rebounds (one offensive), two blocks and an assist. The sophomore was active throughout his time on the floor and his first block was a result of closing out defensively and getting his hands on a Leron Black shot.
Hayes dealing with foul trouble in the first half allowed Moesch the opportunity to get some playing time. In his four minutes on the floor he certainly made the most of it with three offensive rebounds. His activeness, along with his teammates Happ and Vitto Brown, gave the Badgers five offensive rebounds on its final first-half possession that led to a tip in before time expired.
Although Wisconsin was active on the offensive glass, it didn’t necessarily translate into points in the paint. The Badgers finished the game with 24 points down low and didn’t generate many free throw opportunities. Wisconsin didn’t attempt its first free throw until the 11:24 mark of the second half, and the Badgers finished just 2-for-9 from the line.
For a fourth straight game Wisconsin committed double-digit turnovers (12), as Illinois did a good job of cutting off passing lanes to register five steals and force Wisconsin into mistakes. With the exception of Showalter, every starter for Wisconsin had at least two turnovers. Illinois was able to cash Wisconsin’s mistakes into 12 points.
Game MVP: Nigel Hayes. Hayes may have shot 36.3 percent from the field but still nearly registered a double-double. Forced to sit after picking up two fouls in the first half, Wisconsin went 0-for-4 with three turnovers with the senior on the bench, causing Gard to insert him back in the lineup. The result was Hayes registering an assist on a Koenig’ 3-pointer and another on a Thomas bucket to rebuild the lead. Hayes also registered a put-back dunk in the second half to end a drought of five missed shots. Overall Hayes finished the game with two assists to two turnovers and had one steal.