MADISON — After a convincing win over No. 22 Syracuse Tuesday night, the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers played host to the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers erupted in the second half to win 90-70 behind Nigel Hayes’s 28 points.
The Sooners defeated the Badgers 65-48 last year, as Wisconsin looked to avenge their loss from 2015-2016. Oklahoma lost star players Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins after last season, but came in ready for this road test.
Oklahoma got off to a fast start, leading 6-0 under two minutes in. Wisconsin quickly made it 6-5, but the Badgers’ Big Three was subbed out early due to poor defense and rebounding, as D’Mitrik Trice, Khalil Iverson and Charles Thomas checked in early at the 16:12 mark.
Kameron McGusty was very solid off the bench for the Sooners, scoring seven quick points on 3/3 shooting. McGusty wasn’t the only one though, as Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice stepped in and went 2/2 from three to tie the game at 17 at the under 12 media timeout.
Trice continued to impress for the Badgers, as the rest of the offense looked stagnant and reliant on Bronson Koenig to create offense. Iverson had the early play of the game, grabbing his own offensive rebound and throwing it down while getting fouled on the play.
Oklahoma started the game 5/6 from deep, helping them to a 30-26 lead. The Sooners cooled down a bit after that, as Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ got hot for the Badgers to make it 40-37 at the half.
This first half was incredibly entertaining. Not only was it back and forth on the court, but it had everything, including a phantom fire alarm and a phantom “foul” involving Happ and Khadeem Lattin. Luckily no one was hurt, other than Lattin’s reputation.
The second half started off even faster than the first, with the Badgers taking their first lead 50-51 and both teams going back and forth. Hayes led this run for Wisconsin, scoring six quick points including a monster dunk off a beautiful pass from Vitto Brown.
Hayes was very determined in the second half, getting to 20 points on just 11 shots, and helping the Badgers lead 66-60 at the 9:45 mark. Koenig then hit a three, and Wisconsin led by nine, which was their largest lead of the game to that point.
With Nigel Hayes on fire, D’Mitrik Trice shooting lights out from three and the defense stepping up, the Badgers really cracked this one open 77-60. The team went on a 20-2 run at one point, which was easily the best the Badgers have played in a long time.
This game was a statement game for Wisconsin, but especially for senior leader Nigel Hayes. Hayes has dealt with a lot of critics early in the season, and he shut them up today, erupting for 28 points to go along with six assists.
The Badgers scored 53 in the second half of this one, on their way to the win, 90-70. Wisconsin will play host to Idaho State on Wednesday.
Coach Gard, on his birthday today, was very happy about the team’s performance in the second half, describing it after the game.
“Shot selection got better in the second half,” Gard said. “Our offense helped our defense, and we were more conscious in the second half of playing inside out.”
Gard also had some thoughts about Nigel, and his terrific but mindful performance today.
“It’s him understanding and the team understanding what makes us our best. Ironically, it’s the same.”
But on a day that Nigel Hayes dominated on the court, he also had the quote of the day. Wisconsin’s senior star was asked about how he can possibly be defended when his shot is on, and Hayes simply responded with “In the most humble sense, I don’t feel I can be guarded.”
It’s a long season, but when Hayes puts up 28 points and six assists in a blowout victory, he is very much correct with that assessment of his skill.