Wisconsin won its 16th game of the season on Saturday when they went to overtime in Minnesota, emerging with the 78-76 victory. A couple of major themes emerged in the hard-fought win.
Happ’s Pure Show of Dominance
Sophomore big man Ethan Happ continues to show that he is the most dominant player on the Badgers. If that’s not enough, Happ is becoming one of the most dominant players in the country. The stats alone don’t quite do the performance justice, but they still speak volumes. Happ scored 28 points (23 in the second half and OT), grabbed 12 rebounds, picked up six assists and five blocks in 38 minutes. The point, assist and block numbers were all career highs for the Milan, Illinois product, while the rebounds was also a game high. Happ is the first Division 1 player in 14 years to put up 25+ points, 10+ rebounds, 5+ rebounds and 5+ blocks in a game. He’s is the type of player to let his play do the talking, but nationally, the big man is making a very loud statement out on the court with his performances.
Kold-Blooded, Klutch Koenig
While Ethan Happ is the most dominant player on the team, no one quite changes a game so quickly as Bronson Koenig. Koenig finished the game with a solid 11 points and six assists, including six of his points in overtime. But just like Happ, the numbers don’t tell the story of Koenig’s ability and importance to this team. Wisconsin had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but could not convert, so we were awarded with some free basketball at “The Barn.” The next five minutes were basically Koenig vs. the Gophers, and the lone ranger won this battle. The senior point guard scored six of the team’s 11-points in the extra period, with two huge threes, putting his total at 3/5 for the game from deep. Consistent shooting from Akeem Springs and Amir Coffey for the Gophers had placed the home team up three early in the overtime period, but Koenig made one from long range to tie the game back up, in a back and forth contest that featured a whopping 18 ties and 17 lead changes. Happ was pretty tired at this point, and Hayes wasn’t quite as aggressive toward the end, so with the Badgers down 76-74 with about 45 ticks left on the clock, Wisconsin went to Koenig. The fourth year in-state product really does have ice in his veins, as he came off a screen and hit a beautiful three to give the Badgers the 77-76 lead.
Free Throws Trending Up, Defense Trending Down
All season long, free throws have been a problem for the Badgers. But on Saturday, they improved on that front, shooting 9/13 total (69%). In a game where a few missed free throws could’ve made a gigantic difference, it was crucial to convert. Hayes and Happ, by the nature of their games, will almost always be the ones taking the free throws, and the two combined to shoot 8/11, including a 6/9 effort by Happ. Wisconsin is still 12th in the Big Ten in free throw shooting (66%), but nights like last night might help.
One area of concern that came out of the game, however, is defense. Prior to this game, Wisconsin had kept seven straight opponents under 70 points, including all five conference games. While Minnesota did surpass 70 in overtime, their shooting was great all day, as they finished at 47% from the field and 53% (9/17) from three. The Badgers limit opponents to just under 41% shooting and 36% from three, and it was clear that on defense, Wisconsin was getting continuously beaten on screens. Ethan Happ expressed his exhaustion after the game, and the starters can only be relied upon to do so much. Bench defense from the first few guys to come in – Hill, Iverson, Illikainen – needs to be more aggressive to take pressure off of the starters.