Entering the game, having help turn Wisconsin's six-game losing streak into a modest two-game winning streak, Hughes hadn't been an integral part of the offense. That's the nice way of saying Hughes fell into the worst shooting slump of his young career.
But while his shot wasn't falling, it was on the defensive end where Hughes had shined. In two games, Hughes' two main assignments have shot a combined 9-for-24 and had little impact on the end result.
For the first time in seemingly a long time, Hughes' impact was two fold.
Making his first three shots from the floor, Hughes scored 11 of his 14 points in the first 20 minutes, helping Wisconsin build a lead it would never relinquish in a dominant 69-52 win over Iowa Wednesday night.
Shooting 6-for-12 from the floor (including 5-for-7 in the first half), Hughes helped the Badgers build a 12-point halftime lead and finished with a collegiate-high six assists, two steals and only one turnover, all of which coming against an Iowa team he was bench against just weeks earlier.
"You can take every category and he worked hard at it," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "If you take every possession and you look at his positioning and where he's steering guys, what he's doing defensively, what he's doing offensively, getting guys into position, he played a pretty good game obviously. It's hard to pick one thing."
Over UW's past two wins, Hughes, who has seen his points per game average drop 0.9 points over the past week, had shot .06 percent from the floor (going 0-for-7 against Illinois and 1-for-10 at Penn State) and finishing with a minuscule four points.
Despite his positive 7-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, Hughes hadn't made a bucket in roughly 70 minutes of game action, a fact that would have bothered the junior point guard had he not been playing sound defense.
Talking openly since the season began about wanting to step up and help fill the defensive void left by Michael Flowers, Hughes' shutdown defense over the prior two games has been a big lift to a Badger team that had been struggling with their defensive identity.
Against Illinois, Hughes kept the Illini's leading scorer, Demetri McCamey, to only 12 points and zero free throw attempts, a significant achievement seeing as McCamey went 11-for-13 from the line and scored 25 points in Illinois' 64-57 victory in Champaign on Jan.24.
After holding PSU's Talor Battle to a season-low six points on 2-for-11 shooting in UW's 65-61 home win over Penn State Jan. 3, Hughes limited Battle to just 4-for-15 (26.7 percent) from the floor and shutdown the Big Ten's third-leading three-point marksman, as Battle turned in an 0-for-6 from three-point range in UW's 10-point road win on Sunday.
"It's about helping the team out any way I can," Hughes said. "As a point guard that's what you are supposed to be doing. You're not supposed to be scoring much, only do it when it's needed."
This time, Hughes lit things up on both sides of the floor. Defensively, Hughes limited sophomore guard Jeff Peterson (Iowa's second leading scorer) to 3-for-7 from the floor and 10 points. With Hughes guarding him, Peterson only made two shots and never drew a foul from the Wisconsin junior.
For the game, the Badgers' ball pressure turned 14 Iowa turnovers into 29 points.
"They were picking us apart off the ball screens and had target practice at the top of the key," Hughes said. "We didn't have our hands up and that was out main focus. We stuck to our rules and didn't let the game get out of hand.
"We turned our defense around the last three games. We feed off of that and that creates good open shots for our offense."
For the first time, those open shots were in the post. After shooting 34 three pointers in their last two games, the Badgers didn't settle for the deep ball until at least giving a look into the post. The result was UW scoring 28 points in the post and 7-for-12 from three-point range.
"I was settling for the long ball and didn't get the ball into the lane, which I should be doing and distributing the ball," Hughes said of his struggles. "That was my main focus of the game – trying to beat my guy, draw another defender and kick it to the open guy. It worked to our favor today."
As it turns out, Hughes' focus turned out to be a momentum shift for Wisconsin.
With 27 second left on the first-half clock and the Badgers up 29-24, Hughes intercepted a Jake Kelly's pass and raced down the court for a lay-in.
Before Iowa freshman Matt Gatens inbounded the ball, he and senior Marcus Landry got tangled up, resulting in Gatens throwing a forearm that knocked Landry to the floor and getting a technical for his actions.
After Jason Bohannon converted the pair of free throws, Hughes, with four seconds left on the clock, drove the lane, drew the defender and kicked the ball out to Bohannon, who nailed the three at the buzzer, capping a 7-0 run in the final 27 seconds and keeping Wisconsin ahead for good.
"I thought Pop's decision at the end on the pass to J-Bo, he drew the guy, drive, dished and delivered," Ryan said. "That was a big difference for us going into the locker room."
Added senior Joe Krabbenhoft: "That was huge momentum. The crowd really got into it. That was the loudest it's gotten all year. It was nice to see that."