When Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ took the floor on Tuesday against No. 19 Indiana, it was his first game after winning consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Thus, he had established a high precedent for himself in his recent performances that, in all fairness, was going to be hard to live up to.
But Happ showed no signs of regression. Instead, the redshirt freshman posted the best game of his career as the Badgers kept alive their NCAA tournament hopes by snapping the Hoosiers' 12-game winning streak in overtime, 82-79.
Over his last seven games, Happ is averaging 16.1 points per game and has posted three double-doubles.
The latest episode in his development as a player, Happ hit 10 of 15 field goals en route to a career-best 25 points. He dominated 7-foot Indiana center Thomas Bryant in the paint and flashed a few newer moves on the perimeter, as well.
Let's break down the game that was for Happ.
Here, Happ gets the ball at the top of the arc and simply looks to create for himself. It's something we're beginning to see more and more from him. Happ's lateral quickness will beat that of Bryant's nine out of 10 times.
He took a jab-step to the left and, as you can see, opened up Bryant's hips that way. Happ puts the ball on the deck going right and blows by Bryant. For some reason, the help defense of Troy Williams opts to stay on Alex Illikainen on the perimeter, and Happ finishes (below) for his first points of the game.
In the second half, he did the exact same thing to Bryant. A fair amount of credit goes to interim head coach Greg Gard and his coaching staff for the scouting report, because both times Happ attacked Bryant off the dribble from the perimeter, he blew by him.
In the above shot, Happ once again jabs left before ultimately going right. Look at that separation he created before even taking his second dribble. Same move, same result: as much a cerebral move as an athletic one by Happ.
Bryant's length allows him to recover, but Happ's positioning allows him to go up and over for the finger roll.
Back to the first half, Happ's second basket of the game was set up by a penetrating drive by Khalil Iverson. Earlier in the play, Happ positioned himself on the left block, where he would have been in good spot for a post feed from Koenig on the wing. Iverson was able to create down the lane, however, and drew Happ's defender (Max Bielfeldt).
Iverson dishes it off to Happ, who probably could have gone up into the contact of Williams. We've seen Happ finish through contact of smaller defenders well, but he opts for a pump fake. Because Williams is so far away, he lunges into the air once Happ shows the fake.
One point of focus thus far for Happ has been going up strong and using his frame at the rim. After the pump fake, Happ goes up both quick and strong in order to counter Bryant's shot-blocking abilities. If he had put the ball on the deck after the fake, he's all of a sudden surrounded by Hoosiers and likely unable to score.
Frank?! Is that you?
We all remember the Frank Kaminsky drop-step to reverse direction on the drive to the rim. His footwork was impeccable and he could finish with the best of them, but he would also help himself out with a little elbow hook on his defender at times.
Though it's not on a drop-step, Happ shows some of that ability to get a subtle hook on his defender and score at the rim.
Here's the initial position against Bielfeldt.
Koenig clears out and Happ reads that no help defense is going to come. Isolated on Bielfeldt, Happ's footwork (and a little help from his right arm) gets past Bielfeldt for the basket.
On some of these next shots, check out Happ's positioning. Below, before he even gets the ball, he has already beaten the bigger Bryant.
He utilizes, once again, that footwork to get position underneath the basket. Having beaten Bryant to the rim now, Happ uses the rim to his advantage of scores on a reverse layup.
An in-game adjustment was evident on this play--which gave Happ 11 points on the game--as well. Earlier in the half, Happ didn't go up strong against Bryant, and the Hoosiers center swatted the ball away; now, going up quickly to the reverse side with strength.
Point-forward Ethan Happ
We've also seen point-forward Ethan Happ show up at times on the fast break. I'm not necessarily sure that Gard loves Happ running the break, but he did make one of the top plays of Wisconsin's season on the break against North Dakota.
On the defensive end, Happ poked away an entry feed to Bryant and led a 2-on-2 break. This is the situation he was up against. Not very promising, right?
Well, Happ paused his dribble just enough for Robert Johnson (closest to the rim in the picture above) to step out and cover Koenig (No. 24 in white).
Mano-a-mano with Williams, Happ takes him to the rim and finishes nicely with his right hand.
The Ethan Happ domination
Buckle your seat belts, kids, because we're about to see Happ dominate Bryant in the post over the final minutes of the game.
Happ picked up his 19th point of the game by putting his head down and powering through Bryant (below). He stops just before the rim and finishes with a nice touch, which continues to improve this season.
In the below two pictures, you'll see the position that Happ establishes. The feed is slightly off, which forces him to face up on Bryant. Happ's first step to the right beats the defender, and he comes to a jump stop at the restricted area circle to gain his power.
In the second picture, Bryant's arms are inhibiting Happ's vertical space, but the Badgers forward goes up and finishes through the contact. He doesn't get the call, but very well could have.
His last field goal of the game came on another effort where he bullied Bryant. The play, quite clearly, was to get the ball to Happ. Koenig passed immediately to Zak Showalter (top of the picture, in white), who looked immediately to Happ. Bryant forced the entry to occur well out from the block and sells out to keep Happ from going toward the middle of the paint.
Happ senses Bryant taking that away and, WOOP, drops a filthy spin move toward the baseline. Bryant's back is still completely to the basket while Happ is one step away from the paint.
That sets up a reverse layup for Happ--a shot that hasn't exactly been automatic for the redshirt freshman this season. He hits this one to put Wisconsin up by three in overtime.