In yet another low-scoring, defensive battle, the newly-ranked No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers came out with the Big Ten victory over Indiana, 65-60. Ethan Happ’s post performance, team defense and improved bench play all guided the team to a win atop the Big Ten Conference.
Happ’s Continued Dominance
Ethan Happ poured in yet another All-American level performance on Sunday against the Hoosiers. Going against a front line that features Thomas Bryant for Indiana, Happ finished with 20 points on 8/10 shooting – about as efficient as it gets.
Coming off back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Week honors, the big man did not disappoint. In addition to the 20 points, Happ finished with seven rebounds, three blocks, three steals and two assists. Whenever the Badgers needed a bucket, they knew where to go with the ball, as Happ only missed two shots from the field, and also made his first four free-throw attempts.
Toward the end of the game, the post player looked much like a guard, poking the ball away from Indiana on the perimeter, and going coast to coast for the slam.
Along with Vitto Brown and Charles Thomas, Happ held Bryant to just 11 points. His offensive efficiency numbers speak for themselves, but Happ’s defense is starting to gain more recognition as well, as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called him the “leader for National Defensive Player of the Year.”
Stingy defense, yet again
Ethan Happ had another great and efficient game on the offensive end against Indiana. However, the story of the game was the Badgers’ defense.
With the offense struggling lately, the defense has stepped up and really picked up the slack, as Wisconsin won the game only scoring 65 points. This is impressive against really any team, but especially the Hoosiers, who came in scoring at least 70 in the past five games and averaging 82 PPG on the season – second in the Big Ten.
In fact, holding the Hoosiers to 60 points was so important, Nigel Hayes called it “the only reason we won” during the post game press conference.
In addition to the low scoring, the Badgers also held Indiana to 43% from the field and 35% from deep, while forcing 15 turnovers. The team obviously needs to pick up its effort on the offensive end, but if Wisconsin’s defense can keep this up, the Badgers will be a real threat come tournament time – both of the Big Ten variety and March Madness.
Improved Bench Play
Along with poor team free throw shooting, lack of bench production has probably been the biggest trouble for the Badgers’ so far this season. On Sunday, that improved.
In a close game, Wisconsin played 10 players, including nine that played at least seven minutes on the floor. Jordan Hill continues to get minutes in the rotation, but the big difference on Sunday was Brevin Pritzl. After not being in the rotation much at all this season, Pritzl played 12 minutes on Sunday, second to just Khalil Iverson from the bench. In those 12 minutes, Pritzl finished with six points on 100% shooting from the field and charity stripe, and also played very solid defense.
Having watched practice and seeing Pritzl bring it all on the floor during every drill, it’s not a huge surprise that he is finally getting some playing time, as Coach Gard explained after the game.
“I thought Brevin Pritzl did a great job today,” explained Gard. “Early on in the season, I think he fell in the trap that shooting will get (him) into the rotation.”
“Now that he is showing some of those intangibles,” Gard said, “over the last 6-8 weeks he’s been getting his swagger back.”
No. 7 Wisconsin travels to Lincoln on Thursday to face off against Nebraska. The game can be seen at 8 p.m. CT on BTN.