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Badgers Breakdown: Northwestern at No.7 Wisconsin

Getting by without its best offense against the bottom half of the league, No.7 Wisconsin will face a stiff defensive challenge tonight against a Northwestern team without its leading scorer. BadgerNation breaks down the match-up.

Northwestern (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten) vs. No.7 Wisconsin (21-3, 10-1 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Sunday, February 12, 5:30 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – Big Ten Network (Kevin Kugler and Jon Crispin)

Radio –Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Wisconsin leads 114-63 (Wisconsin leads 66-21 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Northwestern won, 70-65, on January 12, 2016, in Evanston, Ill.

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.0 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.6 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 14.5 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 13.9 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 7.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 5.3 ppg)

15 Charles Thomas (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 2.7 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 4.1 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Hayes enters the weekend as the only player in the Big Ten and one of seven players nationally to average at least 13 points, five rebounds and three assists per game this season.

NORTHWESTERN PROBABLE STARTERS

4 Vic Law (6-6 Sophomore Forward, 13.6 ppg)

5 Dererk Pardon (6-8 Sophomore Center, 7.8 ppg)

12 Isiah Brown (6-2 Freshman Guard, 6.9 ppg)

30 Bryant McIntosh (6-3 Junior Guard, 13.5 ppg)

34 Sanjay Lumpkin (6-6 Senior Forward, 6.7 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

32 Nathan Taphorn (6-7 Senior Forward, 4.5 ppg)

44 Gavin Skelly (6-8 Junior Forward, 6.9 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Missing last season with an injury, Law ranks 15th in the Big Ten in scoring and is second on the team (10th in the Big Ten) with a 42.7 3-point field goal percentage (44-103).

LAST TIME OUT

LINCOLN, Neb. – Just when it appears Wisconsin has run out of ways to overcome a poor shooting performance, the Badgers pull another out of the fire to remain on top of the Big Ten.

That’s what the mentally strong group in the Badgers’ locker room is proving as it remains unscathed going through its shooting fog that is low on style points.

On a night where the shots still don’t fall, senior Nigel Hayes was able to free himself from the shooting fog with a game-high 20 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime, to push No.7 Wisconsin’s winning streak to eight with a 70-69 overtime victory over Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“Big players make big time plays,” Hayes said. “I never lose confidence in myself. I could have missed my last 30 3s and knew I was going to make that one.”

Senior Zak Showalter added 15 points on 4-for-6 on threes to help the Badgers (21-3, 10-1 Big Ten) win their eighth straight overtime game and maintain a 1.5 game lead over Purdue in the Big Ten standings with seven games to go.

In an overtime session that had six lead changes and two ties, Wisconsin needed everything from a four-point play from Showalter and a 3-point bank shot from Bronson Koenig (12 points, 4-for-13) to keep afloat on a night the team shot 23-for-63 (36.5 percent) and 8-for-22 (36.4 percent) from 3-point range.

Saying his team couldn’t shoot, couldn’t finish around the rim, committed too many turnovers and allowed too many rebounds, head coach Greg Gard called it another “gut check” performance.

“They answered the call when they needed to,” Gard said.

After going 12-for-39 in the previous four games, Hayes found his offense after sitting most of the first half with foul trouble. Working in the low block, the forward scored 15 points in the second half, but saved his biggest shot on a feed from Koenig in the extra session, splashing a 3-pointer – his first perimeter attempt of the game - with 18.4 seconds remaining.

It was easily the biggest 3-pointer of the year for Hayes, who entered the game 17-for-57 beyond the arc on the season and only 4-for-20 in conference play.

UW did it with defense from there, looking to their All-American to make the plays. Being switched out on offense down the stretch because of his free throw shooting, Ethan Happ’s final bucket came with 9:40 remaining and finished with eight points against constant double teams and 14 rebounds.

However, thanks in part to Showalter cutting off a direct driving lane, Happ blocked Tai Webster’s drive to the rim following Hayes’ 3-pointer, secured the rebound and called timeout with 3.3 seconds left.

After Hayes missed a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds left, Happ knocked the ball out of Michael Jacobson’s hand just before time expired for the 22nd turnover by the Huskers.

Nebraska took the lead four different times in the extra sessions and led by as many as three. The Huskers could have bumped it up to four by Ed Morrow – who grabbed 13 rebounds after missing the last seven games with a foot injury – missed two free throws. Nebraska was 15-for-24 from the line, mistakes compounded when Hayes hit his 3-pointer on the next possession.

Webster finished with 19 points and the Huskers ended with 20 offensive rebounds, but the Badgers held them to seven second-chance points and just 40.0 percent shooting

SERIES NOTES

Northwestern was Wisconsin's first opponent in the Kohl Center, a 56-33 Badgers win on Jan. 17, 1998. The Wildcats are just 1-14 all-time at the Kohl Center with their only win coming in a 65-56 decision in 2015.

Wisconsin has won nine of the last 11 against the Wildcats overall

UW’s last seven victories over NU have come by an average of 22.9 points. The Badgers have held Northwestern to 70 or fewer points for 34 consecutive games

LAST MEETING

EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern competed harder than Wisconsin did during the Wildcats’ 70-65 victory in front of 7,264 fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the third straight loss for the Badgers.

For once the problem wasn’t Wisconsin’s offense. For the most part the Badgers shot the ball efficiently, finishing the game at 47.8 percent, but couldn’t continue the momentum they had started to establish over the last few games on the defensive end.

The Wildcats’ (15-3, 3-2) game plan was black and white: if the Badgers were going to pinch the 3-point line, they were going to relentlessly attack the paint. The result was the Wildcats scored 30 points in the paint and attempted 34 free throws (making 22). It carried over to the defensive end, as well, as Northwestern suffocated UW on the glass in a 34-25 edge.

Sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh was the biggest beneficiary, punishing the Badgers off mismatches and scoring 12 of his game-high 28 points in the paint, not to mention setting up his teammates for 10 paint points on his five assists.

Like so many times this season, Wisconsin had chances to pull a win out late but couldn’t execute.

Down 61-55 with 2:39 left, UW went full-court press and managed to generate three turnovers on its half of the court down the stretch. Those turned into zero points, the biggest buzz kill coming with UW down 68-63 with 20.2 seconds left. Taking the ball out on the end line, Koenig found a driving lane at the top of the key but was whistled for an offensive foul – his fifth – underneath the basket with 12.6 seconds left.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Wisconsin's trio of Happ (14.5 ppg), Koenig (13.9 ppg) and Hayes (13.6 ppg) are combining for 42.0 ppg. The Badgers have not had a trio of players average at least 13.0 ppg in the same season since 1983-84 when Cory Blackwell (18.9), Rick Olson (14.0) and Scott Roth (13.5) turned the trick.

The Badgers have scored 274 more points in the paint than their opponents, a margin of +11.4 ppg (33.6 to 22.2). UW has only been out-scored in the paint on three occasions.

This season, the Badgers are out-scoring opponents by 24.0 points per game (79.0 to 55.0) at the Kohl Center.

After Hayes attempting 52.5 percent of his shots from 3-point range (5.2 3FGAs per game) over the first six games, just 14.6 percent of total field goal attempts have been from behind the arc over the last 18 games.

NORTHWESTERN NOTES

Northwestern’s 18-6 record represents the school’s best 24-game start to a season in program history. The Wildcats opened their Big Ten season 7-2, the best mark through nine league games since the 1932-33 Big Ten championship squad.

Of Northwestern’s six losses this season, only three of them have come with all five of the Wildcats’ regular starters in the lineup. NU’s three losses with all five regular starters in the lineup have been by a combined 10 points: 2—at Butler; 4—vs. Notre Dame; 4—Minnesota.

The Wildcats sport a 1.53 assist-to-turnover ratio (395 assists, 259 turnovers) this season ranking them first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation.

The ’Cats rank second in the Big Ten and eighth nationally with an average of 5.9 blocked shots per game. The Wildcats set a school record and matched a record for a Big Ten Conference game when they swatted 15 shots in a Jan. 12 win at Rutgers.

PREDICTION

It’s early into his tenure at the University of Wisconsin but assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft’s impact on the program can be seen every game. Example, you are no longer seeing the Badgers lack creativity when they inbound the basketball.

In the past, Wisconsin’s typical inbounds play was throwing the ball near midcourt or the 3-point line and resetting the offense. Rarely were there many actions at the rim. Krabbenhoft has already started to change that.

Given that role by head coach Greg Gard upon getting hired, Krabbenhoft has tipped into the playbook of South Dakota State – his previous coaching stop – to give opponents more things to prepare for.

“We’re not probably halfway in to what we could actually put in,” Gard said. “I don’t want to expand too much with these guys and confuse them too much. It’s a numbering system and a call with a number. It’s been really good. It gives us a lot of different looks. We can do a multitude of things out of it. I’ve always like to attack and be aggressive there when he can.”

Wisconsin typically waits for a call from Krabbenhoft or Gard for an action they want to see against a defense. Against Penn State and Indiana the Badgers have registered a dunk off an inbounds pass, first Bronson Koenig to Khalil Iverson and then D’Mitrik Trice to Ethan Happ. According to Gard, Trice’s pass to Happ was something the true freshman called on his own, the number five which called for a simple back screen and attacking the rim.

“As a quarterback he knows how to audible,” Gard said. “That was his audible in the huddle.”

Considering Wisconsin’s shooting performance over the seven games, the Badgers need all the help they can get. After a near complete performance offensively against Ohio State, the Badgers played three inconsistent first halves the next three games before strong second halves got them to the finish line. Over the next four games, Wisconsin has shot less than 41 percent from the field.

UW survived in large part because the Badgers relied on their defense against lower-half conference teams. That’s usually not the case with Northwestern, which is limiting its opponents to 39.0 percent shooting from the field this season, the 15th-best mark in the nation and tops in the Big Ten. The problem is a majority of those numbers include Scottie Lindsey, who leads the Wildcats in scoring over 15 points per game and delivers defensively.

In the two games without Lindsey, Northwestern allowed Purdue and Illinois to shoot 52.2 percent and 42.1 percent, respectively, from 3--point range. Northwestern’s team’s field goal percentage and assists are down and turnovers and opponent shooting percentage is up without Lindsey (mononucleosis). Fortunately for Wisconsin, Lindsey won’t play tonight either.

We keep saying the shots are coming for Badgers. Maybe being snubbed by the tournament selection committee's way-too-early rankings will be the tipping point. Expecting a low-scoring grind, those games usually go Wisconsin’s way. Badgers by 10.

Worgull's Record: 22-2

Points off Prediction: 201 (8.4 per game)


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