Wisconsin was only at 57 points, but the Badgers had five players in double figure and were executing a balance between attacking the low post and hitting from the perimeter. It’s the kind of offense that makes a shoddy defense like Indiana go crazy.
Bronson Koenig continues to get healthier with his leg and his shot. The senior lead the Badgers with 16 points in 37 minutes, while adding five assists, three steals and only one turnover. He also splashed four of UW’s 10 3-pointers, giving the Badgers consecutive games of double-digit 3-pointers for the first time since late November-early December.
After four straight games of shooting less than 60 percent, Ethan Happ found his touch with an efficient 7-for-9 performance that equaled 14 points. He also added a game-high 12 rebounds, giving him his 10th double-double of the season.
Zak Showalter reached double figures for the fourth straight game while playing a team-high 38 minutes, D'Mitrik Trice delivered 13 points off the bench and Nigel Hayes added 10, as the Badgers shot 47.4 percent – their highest since shooting 47.3 percent January 24 – and put five players in double figures for the first time since Dec.10.
Hayes was in attack mode from the start, hitting two mid-range jumpers and then going at Thomas Bryant in the low post, drawing two fouls to put the Indiana sophomore on the bench at 15:58. The second one came when he out muscled him for an offense rebound.
But when he was whistled for his second foul and was forced to sit on the bench for the final 15:38 of the first half, Wisconsin still found offense with five other players registering at least a bucket and the team finding an inside-outside rhythm to take Wisconsin into halftime. Wisconsin was 5-for-9 from three and 8-for-17 from two in the first half, allowing them to build a 33-27 edge that they never relinquished.
After only securing two offensive rebounds in the first half, leading to four second-chance points and six points in the paint, Wisconsin got more aggressive in the lane. UW secured seven offensive rebounds to give itself 16 points in the paint and seven second-chance points, three of which helped spark an 8-1 run to put UW up 57-42 with 8:14 remaining.
An off-balanced 3-pointer by Koenig to beat the shot clock was off the mark, but Happ stuck his long right arm in to bat the ball up in the air to where he could contain it. The ball eventually made its way out to Koenig, who delivered a chest pass to Trice, who quickly delivered a bounce pass to Hayes. Doing a little up and under, Hayes fed the ball back to Happ, who delivered in the low block.
Two trips later, both Hayes and Brown fought for an offensive rebound, which led to Showalter drilling a 3-pointer from the corner. It’s those kinds of plays that take wind out of an opponent.
The only two negatives offensively were the Badgers seven turnovers led to 10 points for the Hoosiers, and the Badgers only got to the line 11 times (six makes).
The test was evident, facing an Indiana team that has scored 95 points against Iowa the night before (the second-most ever scored in the Big Ten tournament) and liked to get out and push the pace. Wisconsin relished the situation.
A day after the Hoosiers hit 12-for-20 from 3-point range and shot 60.3 percent from the floor, Wisconsin limited the Hoosiers to only 60 points and cut down passing lanes. Indiana had 17 assists against Iowa but managed only seven against a Badgers’ defense that is starting to become a lock-down unit once again.
Indiana dominated the offensive glass early on, registering six offensive rebounds in the first 6:25 and nabbing three of them on one possession. By the under-12 timeout, Wisconsin was shooting 54.5 percent but were trailing 18-16 because Indiana had out rebounded UW 12-5, including 10-1 on second-chance points. Things drastically changed from there.
After four minutes of back-and-forth, Wisconsin limited Indiana to only five points in the final eight minutes of the half by turning them over four times and letting them secure only two offensive rebounds. Indiana finished with three second-chances in the second half and scored 14 points off its 11 offensive rebounds.
Happ made Bryant uncomfortable early in one-on-one defense, making the 6-10 sophomore attempt off-balance shots in the lane with the UW sophomore in his face. A Big Ten All-Defensive team selection, Happ held Bryant without a field goal for the first time in the Indiana sophomore’s college career.
Happ was joined by Showalter on the all-defensive team, and the senior made sure he backed up that recognition. Showalter stripped De’ron Davis on the way to the rim to force a shot clock violation and a short time later delivered aggressive defense on James Blackmon, forcing the junior guard to pass with two seconds on the shot clock. Indiana couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sounded either.
Wisconsin limited Indiana’s offense to only three fast-break points and forced 12 turnovers, leading to 13 points. UW finished with six steals, including a big one by Showalter. After Showalter sunk a 3-pointer to give the Badgers a 54-42 lead, he promptly got his hands on a ball Davis wasn’t properly protecting. The break the other way saw Indiana collapse on Koenig when he settled on the perimeter, only to have the senior feed a wide-open Trice in the corner for a three.
Indiana went 9-for-22 from the 3-point line but UW kept the Hoosiers off the free throw line. Indiana went only 5-for-9 in the game, all but one of those coming in the second half.
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard had to get creative in the first half with Hayes out with foul trouble and needing to give his other seniors a breather. His answer was a couple new lineups: Koenig and Showalter with Trice, Alex Illikainen and Khalil Iverson, and Happ, Trice, Iverson, Illikainen with Brevin Pritzl. The groups were unconventional but successful in UW keeping its lead. He didn’t score a point in his seven minutes, but Illikainen getting quality minutes will be a boost for his confidence moving forward. The same goes for Trice, who scored all 13 of UW’s bench points and never looked like a freshman playing in his first postseason game.
When things got dicey, UW had a final gear. Seeing a 15-point lead cut to four with 1:21 remaining, Koenig delivered with a huge finger roll layup with 47.2 seconds left and Showalter picked the pocket of Robert Johnson near midcourt. His two made free throws made it an eight point lead with 40 seconds left. Indiana never scored again. That's how veteran teams should close games.
Game MVP: Zak Showalter. A number of worthy choices but the senior was terrific on both ends of the floor. Scoring in double figures for a fourth straight game, Showalter hit four field goals (two 3-pointers) and both of his free throw attempts for his 12 points. In playing a game-high 38 minutes, Showalter had three assists, two steals, two rebounds and no turnovers. And as you read above, his defense was spot on without fouling, getting called for a whistle only once.