MILWAUKEE – After blowing out Idaho State for their fourth win in a row, the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers made the short trip from Madison to Milwaukee to face and beat in-state rival Marquette, 93-84. The Bradley Center was packed with mainly blue and gold, and the stage was set, as Wisconsin looked to avenge its loss from last year to the Golden Eagles.
Marquette and their student section really got things going in this one, as the crowd threw up confetti after they scored the first bucket. Bronson Koenig answered back with a three, and this one was under way.
A big key in the first half was Badgers star big man Ethan Happ picking up two fouls in under two minutes, forcing Wisconsin to go to their bench very early.
Bronson Koenig scored eight quick points, but also had three turnovers in his first 11 minutes. Vitto Brown also stepped up early with seven points and a beautiful dish to Nigel Hayes, but Marquette always seemed to fight back.
After UW took a 23-16 lead, the Golden Eagles hit three three-pointers in a row to bring themselves within two, 27-25. Katin Reinhardt was huge for Marquette in the first half, scoring 13 points on 4/4 shooting from deep.
Ethan Happ did not return for Wisconsin in the first half, which hurt their post game on both ends throughout, as the Badgers trailed the Golden Eagles 40-35 at the break.
Marquette continued to get to the hoop at will after the half, but Happ made his presence felt quickly, scoring four points and grabbing two boards to bring Wisconsin within one, 44-43 at the 15:52 mark.
Vitto Brown also got into some foul trouble for Wisconsin, but Khalil Iverson subbed in and completed a nice and-one play to give the Badgers the lead, 46-44. Right on schedule Markus Howard answered right back for the Golden Eagles.
Wisconsin then responded with a 7-0 run, taking back the lead again, this time 53-47. Happ was the key to this run, with six points, five rebounds and an assist in under seven minutes into the second half, along with Iverson who hit a nice three to add to his incredible arsenal.
Wisconsin really cracked this one open in the second half, to the tune of a 26-6 run to give them the lead 67-50 with about eight minutes to go. The run was a total team effort, keyed by tough defense and strong play, much due to the return of Happ. After the game, Hayes was asked about Happ’s play in the second half.
“He ate (Luke) Fischer alive, and that’s what we’ve been telling him to do. We know he’s great down there in the low post,” said Hayes.
Marquette would cut the lead down to 12 or 13, but the Badgers always answered back with big buckets, especially at the end of the shot clock. The Golden Eagles made it interesting by cutting the lead to eight with about three minutes left.
But when the game got close again, Hayes stepped up and would not let the Badgers lose this game. The final score was 93-84, and Koenig led a balanced attack with 18 points for UW, who had six players (all starters plus Khalil Iverson) in double figures.
This was not only a nice win over an in-state rival, but Coach Gard also made it clear who the top 7-8 men in his rotation were, as Alex Illikainen and Jordan Hill did not even enter the game.
Iverson scored a career-high 16 points, grabbed five boards and had two more blocks. The incredibly athletic sophomore remained humble when asked about his performance today.
“Just playing confident, going out and playing confident and these guys trusting me. I don’t try to go out and get too much,” said Iverson. “Just try to be a spark plug off the bench and contribute any way I can.”
Nigel Hayes had a beautiful afternoon, going for 17 points, 9 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals. Wisconsin had less turnovers and fouls to go along with more rebounds and assists, including winning the assist battle 20-8.
A large key to the second half was Happ, who felt like he had something to prove today.
“Coach talked about last year, and how their front line was tougher than ours, and that’s not something I took lightly,” Happ said after the game.
As far as Hayes and how the star feels about winning the in-state rivalry game, he first talked about he didn’t really care as he is from Ohio, but then went on to add, “Water always finds its level, big brother always rises back to the top where we’re supposed to be.”
Wisconsin (9-2) will take on Green Bay in the Kohl Center at 8 p.m. this Wednesday.