MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin defeated Indiana 71-61 on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center to extend the Badgers’ winning streak to five games. Wisconsin is now 9-7 this season as it prepares for a stretch of three consecutive road contests.
Here are five things we learned about Wisconsin from the win over Indiana:
1. Ethan Happ is playing at an All-America level again
OK, this one isn’t much of a news flash considering how good Ethan Happ has been all season. But in order for Wisconsin to have a chance to win most Big Ten games, Happ needs to be at or near his best. On Tuesday night, Happ was excellent.
He finished with a season-high 28 points on 11-of 18 shooting from the field, grabbed 9 rebounds and added 4 assists. Happ is so dangerous because he commands double teams when he dribbles the ball into the post and has the passing ability to find open shooters outside.
“Happ was really able to, 90 percent of the time, be a guy that could get the catch and be able to make really good decisions, whether it be working off of doubles or crowds. Whatever it may have been, he pretty much made the right play every time,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said after the game.
Happ is the only major conference player averaging at least 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He also is the Big Ten’s only player leading his team in points, rebounds and assists.
Against Indiana, Happ has been especially good. He entered the night averaging 17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in five games against the Hoosiers.
“I don’t really have a good answer for you,” Happ said as to why he has performed so well against Indiana. “But I don’t want to say it’s their defensive scheme because they do similar things as other teams. It’s just matter of fact, I guess it just happens that way.”
2. Wisconsin showed true toughness to earn win
Wisconsin has faced its share of adversity given injuries to guards Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice. But a few hours before tip-off Tuesday, the Badgers lost guard Brevin Pritzl to a head injury sustained during shootaround. That meant Wisconsin played without three of its top four guards, which forced Badgers coach Greg Gard to shuffle around his front-court players. Freshman big man Nate Reuvers earned his first start in place of Pritzl.
Wisconsin trailed Indiana 33-30 at halftime, and the game was back-and-forth for the first several minutes of the second half. But the Badgers began to pull away and never flinched despite being short-handed.
“In terms of the toughness factor, that needs to be our identity,” Gard said. “That’s something that we’ve shown in spurts, but we haven’t shown consistently enough at times. Part of it is guys that are going through a growing process and the understanding and appreciation of how important that aspect is. It’s not always pretty, but there’s times where you have to get gritty and grimy and gut things out, find a way.”
3. Walk-ons are saving day for Badgers
Aaron Moesch and T.J. Schlundt are former walk-ons who have since earned scholarships. Walt McGrory is a freshman walk-on who burned his redshirt because of Wisconsin’s depth issues. None of those players were supposed to see significant minutes this season.
But on Tuesday, that trio combined to play 49 minutes. Moesch played 25 minutes and scored 2 points. Schlundt played 20 minutes and scored 3 points. McGrory was held scoreless in 4 minutes.
Gard used seven players for double-digit minutes, and the only two off the bench were Moesch and Schlundt.
“Schlundt and Moesch spent I don’t think any time over with me in the last two days in our group,” Gard said. “But because of a late injury, we have to shuffle a little bit and shuffle positions within the starting lineup. I thought guys just jumped in, grabbed on and were going to fight and work together, and they did a good job about that.”
While those players didn’t impact the game much in the box score, their presence was invaluable for a team in need of healthy bodies.
“Brevin’s a shooter, and we don’t need guys to come in and shoot the ball always,” Happ said. “I think having guys that come in, be solid defensively and move the ball on offense and when it’s opportune for them to score, they do. I think Moesch especially did a great job [Tuesday night] of doing exactly that.”
Gard was particularly pleased with Moesch’s performance as well. Before Tuesday, Moesch hadn’t played more than 8 minutes in any game this season. His previous career high had been 13 minutes two seasons ago against Indiana.
“He understands what we’re about,” Gard said. “He understands who he is. He’s been around. He’s a team guy first. He can guard multiple positions. … He understands what we’re about, and he bleeds Wisconsin red, that’s for sure.”
4. Brad Davison’s motor never stops
Brad Davison did not have a good first half offensively, as he missed all 4 of his shots from the field and didn’t score. But one poor half never is going to prevent Davison from continuing to hunt for his shot and involve teammates.
That mentality paid off in a big way during the second half, when Davison made 4 of 8 field goals, including 2 3-pointers, and finished with 14 points. Davison is the only other player on the team outside of Happ who is averaging double figures in scoring this season (11.9 points per game).
“I think I just settled down and let the game come to me a little bit more,” Davison said. “I think the first half, I was rushing things a little bit. Second half, I just trusted my work, trusted my teammates, and I just kind of let the game come to me.”
Davison’s defensive prowess and ability to draw charges has become a constant during games. But one underrated aspect of his game is the manner in which he finds contact at the rim offensively. Davison made all 4 of his free-throw attempts against Indiana. This season, he has connected on 49 of 63 free throws (77.8 percent). No player on Wisconsin’s team has made more free throws than Davison.
5. Aleem Ford has become Wisconsin’s best 3-point shooter
How good has Aleem Ford been from 3-point range over the last five games? He has buried 14 of 21 3-point attempts (66.7 percent) and become the team’s top offensive safety valve on the perimeter. Ford was at it again Tuesday, when he made 3 of 6 3-pointers.
This season, Ford has made 24 of 50 3-point tries (48 percent). At 6-foot-8, Ford is a versatile player who can impact the game in a number of ways. But his best attribute during his redshirt freshman campaign has been shooting. Eventually, Ford will be able to diversify his offensive game. He has only attempted 22 2-pointers. For now, however, his outside shooting stroke has been enough to provide the Badgers with a dynamic they desperately need.