Wisconsin averaged 1.06 points over its 67 possessions and did so on an afternoon it went 2-for-12 from 3-point range. How? The Badgers’ ability to continuously feed the low post and be on attack mode – instead of being passive with outside jumpers and fadeaway jumpers – paid dividends against a young Maryland frontcourt.
Ethan Happ’s productivity was twofold, attacking the low post with high-percentage shots that found the bottom of the net or generated free throw opportunities or drawing double teams and effectively getting the ball out to open shooters. After double teams quarantined him against Nebraska, Northwestern and the second half against Michigan, Happ was balanced with nine points in the first half, 11 in the second and delivered a team-best three assists.
Nigel Hayes figured to be a bigger factor after disappearing against Michigan, appearing to be an empty process after his 2-for-7 start of the first half. That changed on UW’s third possession. After missing a layup, Hayes twice got his own offensive rebound before delivering a tip-in in the paint. Hayes went 3-for-5 from the field at that point and delivered his fourth double-double of the season.
While Happ and Hayes combined to score 41 of UW’s 71 points, the Badgers’ contributions from his supporting cast are noteworthy. Head coach Greg Gard rotated Bronson Koenig, D'Mitrik Trice, Zak Showalter and Brevin Pritzl at the guard position (all playing between 19 and 31 minutes) and got between six and nine points.
Trice improved from his 2-for-15 against Michigan to go 3-for-8, Koenig (coming off the bench after missing Thursday’s game) showed some rust but went 4-for-8 in the second half and scored all nine of his points and Pritzl delivered a career-high seven points and did all the little things that gave the Badgers a boost.
Wisconsin registered 18 offensive rebounds (one away from tying a season high) and Pritzl had five of them, which turned into six UW points and four of his own. He didn’t hit a 3-pointer but showed elevation with a cut between two Maryland defenders and a slam at the rim on a perfect bounce pass from Happ.
UW scored 28 points in the paint, 19 second-chance points, committing only one turnover in the second half after committing seven in the first and were willing to push the tempo, even though they didn’t register any fast break points.
The two things that bring down the grade was an ugly 28 percent shooting in the first half (7-for-25) and going 21-for-37 from the free throw line (Hayes went 9-for-14 and Happ went 6-for-11).
In 50 conference games since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has been held to 60 points or fewer six times. Three of those have come against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin set the tone for the game early on, forcing six of Maryland’s 13 turnovers on its first 12 possessions and not letting the Terrapins attempt an inside shot until nearly six minutes had elapsed. When Maryland finally got a shot off inside, Koenig delivered a no-doubt-about it block.
Maryland attempted 22 shots in the first half and 12 came from behind the 3-point line, as Wisconsin’s willingness to lock down the inside took forward Justin Jackson (six points), Damonte Dodd (zero points) and Kevin Huerter (six points) out of rhythm.
Melo Trimble got his points as expected, dropping 27 on 9-for-17 shooting, but the work came sporadically. Guarded by a host of players, namely Showalter, Khalil Iverson and Trice, Trimble started 2-for-5 with that trio of players on him and committed four turnovers. But once Showalter and Iverson had to sit, forcing Jordan Hill and Pritzl to take a larger role defending him, Trimble scored the Terps final eight points of the first half.
With UW back to full strength defensively for the Trimble assignment, the junior guard’s only outburst was scoring eight points in three possessions from the 8:36 to the 7:21 mark. He didn’t score again, getting to the point where UW’s doggedness on him wore him out and made him sit for the final 4:32. Credit to Showalter for not losing his aggressiveness when he was in foul trouble, maybe doing a little bit better job of containing it. UW held players not named Trimble or Michal Cekovsky (4-for-5, 10 points) to 6-for-23 and 23 points.
Wisconsin registered seven steals (Happ had five of his in the first half) and scored 15 points off turnovers, limited Maryland to 18 points in the paint and owned the glass 44-27. UW’s plus-17 margin is its largest in Big Ten play and was Maryland largest rebounding deficit of the season. UW was so active on the glass that at one point Happ grabbed a rebound between three Maryland defenders, one of whom was pinning Happ’s arm behind his back.
In a game that was “extremely physical” by Gard’s standards, even joking the team was going to run the training room out of ice, the Badgers regained the sense of urgency that was missing over the past month when it was skating by bottom-of-the-barrel teams or losing two straight to teams that appear to be better than.
Both teams were whistled for 23+ fouls and the game lacked little flow and rhythm with the amount of foul calls. UW shot 41.4 percent from the floor, its best shooting percentage since Jan.24, but played one of its best halves of basketball all season against good competition.
In part due to fouls and another to be more mobile, Gard put Iverson at the four and Hayes at the five. That move – along with calling a fair amount of ball screens with Trice and Koenig - yielded positive dividends for Wisconsin’s head man.
Game MVP: Brevin Pritzl. Easily could have picked Happ or Hayes but the lift from the redshirt freshman can be seen in his stat line. He set career highs in points (seven), rebounds (seven), offensive rebounds (five) and matched his career high by playing 23 minutes, doing a nice job guarding Huerter, who Gard dubbed a “Prtizl clone.” Pritzl had some gaps in defensive rotations but it was a play he didn’t make that stands out on the stat sheet.
With Maryland leading by one late in the first half and UW trying to push the tempo, Happ threw the ball too far out in front of Pritzl on a break. With his left arm extended and his left foot barely in bounds, Pritzl flung the ball at Trimble – hitting him in the leg and bounding out of bounds – before he flew into the UW cheer squad. It’s a play that’s been few and far between this season for Wisconsin and a niche Pritzl can provide down the stretch.