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Showy-and-Tell: Wisconsin basketball defeats Rutgers 79-57

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Junior guard Zak Showalter posted a career day with 21 points, making all his shot in the process, as the Badgers picked up their first Big Ten victory of the season.

MADISON -- Zak Showalter hasn't missed a shot all year.

Two days after the calendar flipped to 2016, the Wisconsin Badgers' junior guard lit up the Kohl Center to the tune of a career-high 21 points. Every shot Showalter took on Saturday found the bottom of the net as Wisconsin (9-6, 1-1) beat Rutgers 79-57 (6-9, 0-2) to win its first Big Ten game under interim head coach Greg Gard.

Showalter made all eight shots he attempted, including four three pointers, in what forward Nigel Hayes called a "perfect game" from the junior guard.

"I had a lot of wide open looks tonight --€” that helps to go 8-for-8," Showalter said. "So my teammates did a good job of attacking the paint and kicking it out to me. Coach (Gard) always says, ‘10 toes facing the rim and you can knock it down,' so I felt good."

The new year was benevolent to more players than just Showalter. Forward Ethan Happ posted his fifth double-double of the season -- €”the most in the Big Ten -- €”with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and guard Bronson Koenig added 14 points for the Badgers.

The 22-point victory was Wisconsin's largest margin of victory since defeating Siena 92-65 on Nov. 15.

"We're far from perfect, we've got a long ways to go, but I think this was a step in the right direction," Gard said.

The Badgers jumped out to an 11-point first-half lead, but a cold start to the second allowed the Scarlet Knights to draw within four points.

Like they did throughout the day, Showalter and Happ stepped up for Wisconsin.

The two led a fierce charge over the final 13 minutes to put the game so far out of reach that sparingly-used walk-ons Jackson Bax and Will Decorah were able to mop up the final minute of action for only the second time this season.

"They're starting to understand the difference between doing it how we want it done -- €”the Wisconsin way -- €”and when we get away from it, we're not as good," Gard said. "When we stick to it, we become pretty competitive."

Coming out of halftime, the Badgers didn't stick to the Wisconsin way.

A string of ugly possessions resulted in the Badgers missing their first seven shots from the field and committing three turnovers as Rutgers cut the lead to 45-41.

Then Showalter struck.

A driving layup through contact gave Wisconsin its first field goal of the half seven minutes, 23 seconds into the second half. Showalter sunk the ensuing free throw completed the three-point play and put the Badgers up 48-41.

"I turned the corner and it's really my option to get to the rim," Showalter said. "I saw a lane and I took it. Obviously, we had to get something to the rim."

The teams traded baskets until Showalter buried his third three-pointer of the game to boost Wisconsin's lead back to double-digits for good at 55-45.

A layup by Happ then capped a 20-7 Badgers run over six minutes, 29 seconds to put Wisconsin ahead by 17 points.

It was all Badgers the rest of the way, as Showalter's fourth triple put the Scarlet Knights in a 19-point deficit with under three minutes to play. Koenig gave Wisconsin its largest lead of the game at 77-55 with a step-back three.

"They move the ball, they move themselves, and I was proud of my guys for having 30 minutes," Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan said. "And then it cracked open because we sort of wore down with their size."

Playing only one player taller than 6'8, the Scarlet Knights struggled to compete with Wisconsin's size. Rutgers was without a rebound until seven minutes into the game and lost the battle of the boards to the Badgers, 37-25. Wisconsin gained the edge on points in the paint, as well, 34-24.

"I like a lot of the extra effort things and that's something you can't replace, in terms of we can make a lot of things happen by playing hard and playing well together," Gard said.

Forced to collapse on driving ball-handlers due to their lack of size, the Scarlet Knights allowed the Badgers open looks from the perimeter all game. The result: 31-for-58 shooting (53.4 percent), 1.20 points per possession for Wisconsin and a Stephen Curry-like performance from Showalter.

"I don't think I've ever hit every shot I took from the field," Showalter said.

There's a first for everything.

The spotless shooting by Showalter made Happ's effort from the field look inefficient; the redshirt freshman missed only one of his eight field goal attempts.

Koenig scored five early points as Wisconsin pulled out to a 12-6 lead. Rutgers responded quickly, however, tying the game on its next two possessions, before the Badgers rattled off the next nine points to gain a 21-12 advantage.

Rutgers pulled back to within five points at 31-26 before the Badgers scored on five of their final seven possessions of the half to enter the locker room with a 42-31 lead.

During Wisconsin's 30-19 run over 12 minutes to close out the half, Hayes and Koenig -- €”the team's two leading scorers --€ combined for only two points. The contributions from the Badgers' secondary weapons came as an encouraging sign.

"In our earlier games this season, there's been points where if Bronson or I weren't scoring necessarily the majority of the points, we were kind of stagnant in our offense and not scoring," Hayes said. "And now, we've come to the point -- what time better than now, starting Big Ten (play) -- €”for Bronson and I to not really impact offensively and for the other guys to pick us up."

Six Badgers went into the intermission with at least six points, led by Showalter's 10.

With Hayes and Happ in first half foul trouble, Gard did not hesitant to go to the bench. The Badgers went 10 players deep in the first 20 minutes, including forward Aaron Moesch seeing first-half action for the first time in his career.

"I trust those other guys," Gard said of the reserves. "I got confidence in those guys off the bench, that they can help us."

For the third consecutive game, backup guard Jordan Hill logged significant playing time. His career-high of 24 minutes marked his third consecutive game with over 20 minutes.

The highlight of the game came when guard Khalil Iverson skied high for an alley-oop in the first half to bring the home crowd to its feet.

Nothing from pregame shoot-around gave Showalter the indication that it would be a game to never forget.

"Sometimes you think you got hit all your shots in pre-game, sometimes you miss... just, you can't really tell," Showalter said. "You got to hit that first one of the game and get that confidence going."

On Saturday, Showalter followed his theory. He hit his first shot. And the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and... you get the point.