It was supposed to happen this way, but that doesn’t make it any less sweet. Wisconsin came into the game favored by 16.5 points on their home court, and they controlled the game for the majority of the 40 minutes. The win gives coach Gard his first win in Big Ten play, and currently stands as one of Wisconsin’s most complete games of the season.

In a lot of ways, this was the win the Badgers needed. It’s been an up-and-down season thus far, and getting a solid win like this on their home court should help to build confidence within this fledgling team.

Wisconsin’s biggest problem this year has been consistency on both ends, not surprising for an extremely young team. Nigel and Bronson, unfortunately, have struggled with consistency on offense all season long. Today was more of the same, but the Badgers were able to win behind strong, efficient performances from Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter.

Showalter was nearly perfect in all aspects en route to the best performance of his college basketball career. He finished with 21 points on 8-8 shooting (4-4 from three), adding three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. Ethan Happ was his usual interior presence, ending the game with 16 points and 9 rebounds on 7-8 shooting. He has been Wisconsin’s most consistent offensive player throughout the season.

Gard is letting the young guys get real minutes, and he’s staggering the lineups well with veteran presences. Showalter is now a veteran presence on the team and is growing into the role more and more. The offense, it seems, is going to improve as the young players grow into the system.

As we saw today, when Showalter, Bronson and Nigel are attacking the basket, the floor really opens up. Bronson especially needs to be more aggressive attacking the basket to find easy looks for himself and his teammates. Today’s win is important because it wasn’t fueled by great play from Nigel or Bronson, both of whom had decent games at best.

Jordan Hill is specifically playing more, which is significant. It allows Wisconsin to run a quicker, three-guard lineup which has worked to their advantage in years past. It further allows Nigel to get more run at power forward, which is probably a better fit for him at the college level. Finally, it means Gard has a bit more flexibility with his front court rotation, a necessity with the inconsistency of Vitto Brown’s shooting, which continued today.

This was a very solid, complete performance, but there were still stretches where Rutgers was able to go on mini runs. Coach Gard’s goal has to be to get more complete, consistent games from this team. If they don’t stay engaged, the competition will have no problem hitting them with body blows. This will be important over the next four games, as Wisconsin has dates with #4 Maryland and #1 Michigan State. Those games will help teach us more about what this team is made of.

Game Notes

  • Wisconsin outshot Rutgers from the field, 53% to 40%
  • The Badgers continue to struggle from the free throw line, shooting 9-15 today, good for an ugly 60%
  • Wisconsin continues to win the battle on the glass, outrebounding Rutgers 41-27


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