Coming into tonight’s game, Wisconsin had lost five out of their last six games and Minnesota was on an eight-game winning streak. But it was the Badgers who played like the team on a roll on their senior day, winning 66-49.
Wisconsin’s accomplished senior class led the way in their last ever game in the Kohl Center. After sitting out most of the first half with foul trouble, Bronson Koenig finished with 17 points, including back-to-back-to-back three-pointers with 3:05 to play. Nigel Hayes had 12 points, six rebounds, and three assists and Zak Showalter provided 12 points to go along with his usual outstanding energy. Vitto Brown was also more active today than he has been in a long time.
With the victory, Wisconsin clinched the two-seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which is incredible given their struggles down the stretch. But all that is behind them now. It’s on to the postseason, which might as well be a new season for the Badgers.
-You know that stat about Bronson Koenig shooting above 50% from three in the final five minutes of games over the last two seasons? I keep thinking that percentage will eventually go down, and a stat like that can’t last forever. But then he goes out and drains three consecutive three-pointers in the waning minutes like he did today, and I honestly think he can get to 60%. It’s actually gotten to the point where it is surprising when he misses three-pointers late in the game.
-The one negative in this game was free throw shooting. Shocking, right? Wisconsin finished 6-16 at the line. You don’t have to be a math major to know that percentage isn’t very good.
-Say what you want about the recent struggles, but this is one of the most accomplished senior classes in Wisconsin history. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have been four-year studs. They were pivotal pieces in both Final Four runs, and have done a good leading Wisconsin into the Greg Gard era. They have also been two of the greatest Badgers off the court, with Hayes’ charity work and Koenig’s commitment to improving the lives of Native Americans.
Meanwhile, Zak Showalter started his career as a walk-on. But he worked to the point where he is now a second-year starter and one of the most consistent players on the team. His energy and hustle is relentless. That second Final Four run also doesn’t happen without his performance against UNC in the Sweet 16.
And of course, Vitto Brown. I have criticized him more than any other Wisconsin player ever. But he was huge last season in the turnaround. Without his emergence as a shooter, the Badgers probably don’t make the tournament and Gard never gets hired.
Those four seniors have been played a pivotal role in the history of the Wisconsin Basketball program. They helped the Bo Ryan era go out with a bang, and the Greg Gard era get off to a strong start. Thank you seniors for all you have done.