MADISON — Coming fresh off a big win at in-state rival Marquette, the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers hosted the Green Bay Phoenix Wednesday night at the Kohl Center. This game wasn’t pretty, but the Badgers came out on top, 73-59.
After Zak Showalter got things started with a wide-open three pointer, the Badgers missed three open shots, all from deep. There was a very lethargic feel in the building early, especially because the Kohl Center was pretty quiet for an 8 p.m. tip-off game.
A noteworthy point early was Alex Illikainen checking in at the 15:30 mark, as the sophomore did not even get in the game against Marquette on Saturday. Both teams got off to slow starts, and the Phoenix tied it at seven apiece about five minutes into this one.
Green Bay took a 12-11 lead at about the 11-minute mark, but the Badgers answered with a 14-2 run to lead 25-14 with 7:19 left in the first half. Showalter scored nine of the team’s first 25 on 3-3 from deep, and Ethan Happ also hit a jump shot – the first of his Badger career outside the paint.
Happ’s shot really ignited the crowd, and he was asked how he felt about it after the game.
“It was nice to not have to run the whole length of the floor after the shot,” Happ said jokingly.
“Bronson told me in the locker room that was the loudest the Kohl Center has been all year. It was definitely a chill kind of feeling, but hopefully they can just do a regular clap later in the season when I make that.”
Nigel Hayes scored 10 points in the first 15 minutes, and Happ put on a show, accumulating eight points, six rebounds and three assists in his first 14 minutes of play. Wisconsin led 31-21 at the break, but could have easily been up by a greater margin, as the team shot less than 40% from the field.
The second half started out a lot like the first, with low energy and not a lot of points. Sophomore Khalil Iverson had what would have been yet another highlight play, but missed the jam and fell hard to the floor.
Wisconsin opened the second half shooting just 28.6% from the field, but were aided by Phoenix fouls, who put the Badgers in the bonus at just the 15:56 mark of the period, with the home team leading 38-29.
Charles Thomas got on the board with a nice rebound and putback, as the Badgers slowly but surely continued to build their lead. After a couple free throws from D’Mitrik Trice, Bronson Koenig had a beautiful no-look assist to a cutting Happ, who was up to 10, 8 and 5 with ten minutes left in the game.
Showalter quietly was having a very nice game with 14 on 5/8 from the field, but Happ stole the show, nearing a triple-double with eight minutes to play. Wisconsin opened up their largest lead 59-37 with 7:22 left to play, keyed by a 14-1 Badgers run.
It certainly wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing performance, but a few Badgers finished with very good stat lines. Hayes finished with 24 points, Showalter had 16, and Happ had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Coach Gard was asked about Showalter’s big performance after the game.
“It’s good for Zak,” Gard said. “He might not get all the attention or be in the spotlight, but he’s an integral part to what we do.”
Happ’s long awaited jumpshot was the main topic of discussion at the press conference, so Gard shared his thoughts on that too.
“It gives him confidence, obviously. But at the same time he knows what he’s best at, which is around the rim and in the paint.”
Wisconsin (10-2) is currently on a six game winning streak, and will play Florida A&M at home on December 23rd.