The No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers put together an incredible second half, and played some very stifling defense throughout, to help send the storied senior class of Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, Nigel Hayes, and Vitto Brown out with a win at their last game at the Kohl Center. If that wasn’t enough, it was a 66-49 cruising against a true rival in the Minnesota Gophers, winners of their previous eight games before this stop in Madison.
Second half warriors
At halftime of this Border Battle, the Gophers led the Badgers by two, 29-27. After the next 20 minutes, the Badgers were on the winning side of the contest, 66-49.
Wisconsin outscored their rival by a whopping 19 points in the second half, leading to the margin of a much-needed victory by 17.
For someone that has watched this team throughout the whole season, and especially in the last month, the last 20 minutes were pretty special, and one of the best stretches of the season, especially coming against a quality opponent.
A lot of the great second half play can be attributed to Wisconsin native Bronson Koenig. After playing very limited in the first half of his Senior Day due to foul trouble, the sharp shooter from LaCrosse exploded for 17 points in the second half.
To put just that in perspective, Minnesota scored 20 points in the last 20 minutes, as a team.
Koenig wasn’t the only point guard hitting threes in the second half, as true freshman D’Mitrik Trice hit a big three early on in the run, also getting fouled, which even had the generally calm Coach Greg Gard jumping up and down.
Another senior had a big momentum play in the second half:Vitto Brown. Brown had struggled on the offensive end recently, but hit a three in the first half, and had a nice dunk play in the second half as well to pump up an anxious Kohl Center crowd.
Defense steps up, big time
Holding a team to just 49 points in D-1 college basketball is a feat in itself, but against a tournament bound rival team, it’s even more impressive.
In addition, Minnesota had come into the Kohl Center averaging over 80 points over the last three games, and Wisconsin held them to under 50. It was Minnesota’s second-worst offensive performance all season.
Senior Zak Showalter is well-known as a great defender, and was asked what the key to this spectacular team-defense performance was.
“Setting our defense in the half court. We knew they wanted to get it and run,” Showalter said.
Other than scoring just 20 points in the second half, Minnesota shot an atrocious 7/30 from the field, and hit only one three in the second half.
For the whole game, the Gophers shot just 32%, and 23% from deep.
With the impressive win, the Badgers will next head to the nation’s capital to play in the Big Ten Tournament, where they will be the No. 2 seed and play the winner of No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Indiana on Friday night.
This class of seniors has won an incredible 111 games, been to three Sweet Sixteens, and two Final Fours. But just ask Bronson Koenig – they still have work to do.
“Yeah, I definitely think there’s some unfinished business we have,” said Koenig, “especially after our early exit last year in the Big Ten tournament. We want to take every game and every day seriously, and just get better every day.”