WASHINGTON — The Wisconsin Badgers have looked a lot more like one of the best teams in the nation this week than they did in the last few weeks of the regular season.
Wisconsin throttled Northwestern 76-48 in a Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday at Verizon Center. The Badgers advanced to the championship game and will play Michigan on Sunday.
After losing five of six games, Wisconsin has defeated Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern. The Badgers are shooting for their second Big Ten Tournament title in three years.
Nigel Hayes had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the way against Northwestern. Wisconsin made 12 3-pointers and outrebounded Northwestern, 37-27.
What Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said
Opening statement: “Obviously a terrific team win, terrific effort. Played exceptionally well. Played really hard. Just proud of our guys, of how they’ve continued to improve and grow, take little things we have worked on throughout the year and continue to get better at it.”
On team’s defense: “I think we’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, specifically defensively. We got bent sideways a little offensively. We had a hard time scoring two, three weeks ago. Defensively, other than maybe one game or a game and a half, we’ve been pretty consistent.
“These guys understand that’s where it starts. We have to be very good at that end. I think this group has taken ownership of that. They take pride in what they do defensively, in how consistent and good they can be. We’ll just continue to build on that, continue to get better.”
Great response after slide? “It’s the right time of year to be playing like this. We’ll continue to try and get better. We never lost faith in what we were doing. There weren’t any radical changes, anything outside the box. It was just, ‘let’s get back to doing what we do really well.’ That was specifically on the defensive end. That’s where, I think, we’ve taken another step forward here in the last week or two. We’ve been able to be really effective and efficient defensively. It’s helped our offense because we’ve been able to do that. They’ve kind of played off one another. The defensive end is where I think they turned the corner.”
On Michigan: “Michigan is playing really well, not only in our league but in the country. Won eight of 10, something like that. John (Beilein) has done a heck of a job over the time he’s been there. They’ve got really good players. They’ve got a lot of seniors. They have more seniors than we have. They’re playing well at the right time as well.”
Team vs. individual defense: “I never get too caught up in individual matchups because we are so help oriented. We change some things. There’s rotations that are involved with that. We have to have all five pieces working together, not disjointed in any way.
“Michigan does test you in different ways. Obviously with bigs, they can stretch you, shoot the threes. (Derrick) Walton is playing as well as any point guard in the country right now. Obviously they have experience in other areas with (Zak) Irvin and the other guys that play along the front line for them. We’ll have to play well. You get to this point in time, you’re in a championship game. They’re not here by accident and neither are we. Hopefully it will be a really good game between two good teams.”