The Badgers opened up Big Ten play with a win over Rutgers, 72-52, to move to 12-2 (1-0) on the season. After a game that looked like a classic Badger win, here are major takeaways from Tuesday night’s game.
Usually, the trio of Koenig, Happ, and Hayes does the majority of the scoring for the Badgers. Those three are the only members of the team that average double figures in scoring. In the victory over Rutgers, however, Zak Showalter took Koenig’s spot for the night.
“Showalter does a lot of things, things that don’t necessarily show up in the box score,” Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell said of Showalter.
Despite that generally true statement, Showalter racked up his best statistical night of the season – a common thread, as he scored a season-high 21 last year against Rutgers as well.
Showalter had a pretty busy box score with his highest-scoring output of the season, scoring 18 points on 60% shooting from the field. In addition to that, Showalter notched three steals.
“He stays within his lane,” Gard said of his shooting guard. “He doesn’t try to do things he’s not capable of. Obviously how hard he plays, practice or a game, he brings the same hard hat, lunch-pail mentality.”
Hayes and Happ continue efficiency
Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ continued their steady, solid production. Hayes was dominant all night long, carrying a Badgers team during the first half while others struggled.
While the team combined for some lackluster outputs during the first half (3/8 from the three-point line, 8/13 from the free throw line, two near shot clock violations, and seven turnovers), Hayes produced. He accumulated 12 points on 4/6 shooting from the field, and accounted for half of the free throws the Badgers had during the half, shooting 4/4 from the free throw line. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year started Big Ten play out with gusto, getting to the paint and free throw line with ease.
Nigel finished with 20 points and six rebounds and was 10/10 from the free-throw line.
“(I was) fricken excited,” Hayes said of his success at the charity stripe. “Now when I go home and see my mom, she’ll greet me with open arms and love instead of scorn and disgust because I made my free throws.” Actually, his statement was very true – his mother, Talaya Davis, tweeted that she was baking him sweet potato pies as a reward.
Happ finished the game with another double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds). It was his sixth double-double of the season.
The three (including Showalter) did a majority of the work during the first half, accounting for the first 19 Badger points until Bronson Koenig scored with 5:33 left.
Badgers control the boards against a good rebounding team
Rutgers has played nobody. So yes, it’s probably very possible that their team stats are a little inflated. But, coming into Tuesday night’s game, Rutgers was sixth nationally in rebounding margin at +11.5. Wisconsin was ranked second nationally, outrebounding teams by a margin of 14.2 rebounds per game. With both teams being successful on clearing the glass this season, it was certainly a key area to watch.
Just like the score, however, it was an area that the Badgers would dominate. The Badgers outrebounded the Scarlet Nights 44-35.
Rutgers forward Deshawn Freeman was averaging 9.5 RPG before the matchup against Wisconsin. The Badgers did a stellar job of keeping him off of the boards, as he only grabbed three on the night. Freeman grabbed 47 rebounds combined the previous four games and was in double digits in each game.
Although the Badgers controlled the boards as a whole, they did give up a decent amount of offensive rebounds, surrendering 17 boards to the Scarlet Nights on the offensive glass. Greg Gard wasn’t too concerned about the effort, however.
“I’ll have to look at the type (of shots),” Gard said. “There was a lot of balls bouncing because of the type of shots they take. They were coming off at all angles and all speeds off the rim.”
Badgers stifle Rutgers’ offense
What led to all those rebounds? Probably an abundance of opportunities. Rutgers went 19/62 (30.6%) from the field.
The Badgers held everyone on Rutgers under their scoring averages with the exception of two players. Only one was really legitimate, with Mike Williams averaging 11.4 PPG and scoring 18 points against Wisconsin (the other was Diallo, who had two points and averages .5 PPG).
Leading scorer Nigel Johnson averaged 12.7 PPG and scored 11 against Wisconsin. All 11 of those came in the second half when the game was essentially over, and he shot a lackluster 4/14 from the field.
Corey Sanders (10.7 PPG) made matters worse for Rutgers, as he sat the first 10 minutes after missing practice yesterday. He would later get injured and leave the game. Sanders only scored four points during 23 minutes of playing time.
“I thought for the most part other than a few times when we lost the ball or didn’t stop the ball in transition, and then when Williams got loose on us,” said Gard. “Defensively, we were pretty solid.”
The Badgers head to Bloomington next for a date with the Indiana Hoosiers on January 3rd.