MADISON – There is no stat or analytic to measure a team’s urgency level. If there were, it probably was close to peaking in Wisconsin’s locker room at halftime.
Senior Nigel Hayes – who spoke openly two days early about needing to become more aggressive – knew that his team shooting 28 percent and him going 2-for-7 wasn’t going to cut it if the Badgers were going to halt what was slowly developing into a free fall.
“That’s why we’ve dropped the last two, we haven’t matched or exceeded the urgency other teams are playing with,” Hayes said. “They are playing for their tournament lives and trying to build a resume. We should be fighting to have kept the lead we did have.”
Head coach Greg Gard didn’t know if Wisconsin grew up during the 15 minutes in the locker room or not, but what transpired in the final half breathed new life into Big Ten title chances that were fleeting.
Hayes’s double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Happ’s 20 points not only slammed the breaks on a two-game losing streak for Wisconsin (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten), it moved the Badgers into a tie with Purdue at the top of the conference standings with four games to go.
After shooting 4-for-11 and scoring 16 points in the first half, Happ and Hayes shredded the Terrapins (22-5, 11-3) with 25 points (9-for-15) to help the Badgers shoot 51.5 percent and add a signature win to Wisconsin’s lackluster tournament resume.
“They were terrific,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “We couldn’t guard them. We couldn’t double them. We couldn’t guard them head up. They were great.”
It was the kind of effort that could generate renewed hope in Wisconsin. The Badgers committed one turnover in the second half, made junior guard Melo Trimble work and shut down his other options and found a shooting touch that had been pretty much absent since late January by pounding the ball inside and averaging 1.42 points per possession.
“That was more like how this team is,” Gard said.
The shooting – as the player’s forecasted – became contagious in the second half, especially between UW’s two main low post weapons. Happ scored 11 of his total on 5-for-7, only getting slowed down by foul trouble
Before he sat, he had his hands all over a 17-5 run to open the half that helped the Badgers take over the flow of the game. Happ had four of Wisconsin’s six paint buckets on that run, as well as hitting Bronson Koenig – making his return to the court after a one-game absence - for a 3-pointer that tied the score at 38.
After going 3-for-13 in the paint in the first half, Wisconsin went 11-for-17 in the second half as Happ and Hayes carved their way through double teams.
“It helped us a lot that when they doubled we knocked down shots,” Happ said. “When you can produce out of the double team, it’s a lot tougher for them to send it.”
Hayes scored 11 of his points the final 9:19 and did most of his damage from the free throw line. After not shooting a free throw in the six-point loss at Michigan Thursday, Hayes went 9-for-14 from the line. UW finished 21-for-37 from the line and drew 25 Maryland fouls in large part by attacking instead of fading away. Not only did that help UW get to the foul line, it helped the Badgers out rebound Maryland, 44-27, including 18-5 on the offensive glass.
Trimble led all scorers with 27 points and his ability to draw fouls ended up causing the Badgers to put five different players over the course of the first half, starting with lock-down defender Zak Showalter to Khalil Iverson and D'Mitrik Trice all the way down to UW’s reserve guards.
The result was Trimble going 1-for-4 from the floor with four turnovers in the first 17 minutes to hitting his last three shots – two from 3-point range – to help the Terps close the first half on a 6-0 run.
Trailing 53-44 with 8:43 remaining, Trimble scored straight points for the Terps on three possessions but the 82.8 percent free throw shooter missed the front end of the bonus twice. UW cashed them in and then some, as the Badgers’ 8-0 run put them up 12 with 4:41 remaining.
Trimble came out of the game nine seconds later and didn’t return because “he “as tired,” according to Turgeon. The Terps received only 16 points from their other four starters.
“If we would have made some kind of run I would have went back with him,” Turgeon said, citing Trimble going 5-for-10 from the line. “Wisconsin was in total control of the game.”
Koenig scored all nine of his points in the second half to lead the bench scoring, but the lift given by Brevin Pritzl was critical in the early going. Delivering a spark with his hustle, the redshirt freshman delivered career-highs with seven points and rebounds, including five on the offensive glass that turned into six points.
He also out hustled Trimble for an errant pass in the first half, tracking it down in time to throw it off the junior guard before he flew into the cheer squad. That got the arena going, the first of many loud cheers that echoed throughout the afternoon.
“He’s starting to consistently get better and better.”
Gard said that about Pritzl. Time will tell if that phrase holds true for Wisconsin.