Someone woke a sleeping giant within the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team, and it has come at exactly the right time.
A day after looking like the dangerous team the Badgers were perceived to be, Wisconsin did it again on Saturday, beating NCAA tournament-bound Northwestern 76-48 in a Big Ten tournament semi-final.
Senior Nigel Hayes stepped up big time, pouring in a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He was joined in double figures by Ethan Happ (16 points, 8 rebounds) and fellow senior Zak Showalter (10).
Once again the story of this game was Wisconsin’s shooting from beyond the arc. UW knocked down 12 three-pointers on the day, just one shy of a season high for the team. Wisconsin shot 41 percent as a team from beyond the arc.
Seven of Wisconsin’s eight regulars also connected from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile Northwestern could only muster up three made triples en route to shooting just 35 percent from the field overall. UW’s defensive effort helped, as they had a 36-27 advantage on the boards and forced 12 turnovers.
It didn’t take long to notice that UW’s turnaround wasn’t a fluke, as the Badgers raced out to a 15-3 lead in the first six minutes of the game.
Northwestern did make a run of its own though. Following Koenig’s made three-pointer the Wildcats cut Badgers lead to four points at 16-12. However, that was it for Northwestern’s ability to get in the game.
UW responded by clamping down on defense and sending Northwestern on a four minute scoring drought. It was 31-17 Wisconsin with 2:59 left in the first half and Wisconsin never looked back.
They went in to halftime up 38-21 and continued to pour it on as the second half opened up. Another extended scoring drought and Wisconsin continuing to be hot from beyond the arch stretched UW’s lead to as many as 30 points (71-41) with 4:35 to play.
Happ put up 16 points, but missed in all the excitement from beyond the arc was his effort from the free throw line. A chronic struggler from the charity stripe, Happ hit 8 of 11 on the day and the Badgers were 10 of 15 from the line overall.
The win moves Wisconsin on to a date with the red-hot Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten tournament championship. Tip is scheduled for 2p.m. CT on CBS.