In another Big Ten dog fight on the road, the No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 70-69 in overtime to keep their eight game win-streak alive. Leadership from the team’s seniors, gritty defense and solid bench play keyed this ugly victory for Wisconsin.
Seniors stepping up
In a game that literally came down to centimeters and tenths of seconds, the Badgers needed every possible break to pull out the win. When those breaks did occur, they were mostly provided by Wisconsin’s quartet of seniors, in Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown.
Throughout most of the game, the Badgers struggled on the offensive end. However, in the first half, Brown was solid with the ball, leading the team in scoring early with seven points, as well as finishing with four rebounds and three assists. Koenig also struggled throughout most of the game, shooting only 4-13, but when the team really needed a bucket, a hobbling Koenig provided, highlighted by a banked three-pointer in overtime that kept the Badgers alive.
Showalter, as usual, did it all tonight. He finished with 15 points and six boards, but the stats don’t tell the story by themselves. Showy also hit two huge three pointers, including a four-point play, played glue-like defense most of the night, and was perfect from the free throw line in such a close game. And then there was Nigel Hayes, who finished with 20 points, including a tough game-winning three pointer in overtime. It wasn’t pretty, but Hayes would use his size, his craftiness, and overall experience to will the team to victory tonight.
When this contest went into five extra minutes of overtime, the game was tied at 58, so there was obviously strong defense played by both teams in this one.
In addition to Wisconsin holding Nebraska to 58 points in regulation and 69 overall, the Badgers held the Huskers to just 40% shooting from the field. Wisconsin is known for very tough man-to-man defense, but actually experimented with a little zone defense tonight.
More than anything though, what really hurt Nebraska’s chances was a whopping 22 turnovers. If the Badgers didn’t force even just two or three of those, this game would have ended much differently.
This incredible defense by the Badgers was highlighted at the end of OT, where a driving Husker was triple-teamed going to the hoop, and the man in the middle, Ethan Happ, had a very well-played, timely rejection. Then, just seconds later, Happ poked the ball away on the other end of the court to help seal the win for Wisconsin.
Pritzl plays career-high in minutes
Brevin Pritzl led the Badgers in bench minutes tonight, setting a new career-high with 23 minutes. In addition, Pritzl also played more minutes than Brown, a starter.
For most national media, this may come as a surprise to see the redshirt freshman get so many minutes, especially in a close game. However, anyone close to the program knows it was just a matter of time.
Pritzl, who finished with four points, two rebounds and an assist, is one of those players that you hate playing against at practice. He has always brought it, and had the ability to shoot as well, but according to Coach Gard, Pritzl has his “swagger” back.
This swagger mainly consists of tough defense, free throw shooting, and hustle plays, all of which Pritzl provided tonight. With Brown’s minutes decreasing and Alex Illikainen seemingly completely out of the rotation, look for Pritzl to be a key cog in Wisconsin’s run, especially when they play small ball or need clutch shooting.