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Test passed: Wisconsin defeats Green Bay before exams kick off

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The Badgers did their thing on defense once again and took down the Phoenix for their sixth consecutive win.

MADISON—It may not have been achieved with flying colors, but the Wisconsin Badgers passed one last test before final exams begin.

Forward Nigel Hayes scored 24 points and guard Zak Showalter added a season-high 16 points as the No. 14 Badgers beat in-state opponent Green Bay on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, 73-59. With the university’s exam period kicking off on Friday, Wisconsin will be off until Dec. 23.

“You get to this point in time of the year and you remember what it was like when you were a college student going through those finals,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “They can be very mind-wearing at times.”

Showalter made his presence known on both ends of the floor, shooting 6-of-10 from the field and hitting four of six three-pointers.

“They doubled down pretty much every time (forward Ethan) Happ caught it,” Showalter said. “Good to see the ball go through, and it really felt good tonight.”

Six steals from Showalter also headed the charge for the Badgers’ sound defensive effort. Green Bay, which averaged 78.2 points per game with the nation’s eighth-fastest adjusted offensive tempo, scored just .843 points per possession and shot 40.4 percent.

“We’ve been working on getting in gaps ad nauseam in practice,” Showalter said. “I’ve tried to work on that and get my hands on the ball as much as possible.”

Wisconsin won its sixth consecutive game and shot 27-of-58 (46.6 percent) from the field, with Happ adding his fifth double-double in the last eight games.

The game leading up to final exams can have a tendency to be imperfect, including each of Wisconsin’s last two times through the cycle. In last season’s final pre-exam week contest, the Badgers defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 64-49.

“I’m not worried about it, because they need a break both mentally and physically,” Gard said. “We’ve had a grind here. And they’ve got a huge load coming here academically. I could tell some guys were into test mode, project mode, deadline mode—you can tell by the look on their face sometimes. Every year, it never fails.”

One season ago, the Badgers emerged from the exam week break to face the Phoenix to pick up Gard’s first win as head coach.

Against Green Bay’s full-court pressure last season, Wisconsin turned the ball over 26 times. The Badgers cut that number down to nine on 68 possessions and forced 19 turnovers by Green Bay.

The Badgers trailed 12-11 with 11:09 to play in the first half before reeling off a 14-2 run that was highlighted by the redshirt sophomore Happ’s first career jump shot.

“Bronson [Koenig] told me in the locker room that was the loudest the [Kohl Center] has been all year,” Happ said. “It was definitely a chill kind of feeling, but hopefully they can just do a regular clap later in the season.”

Happ, now averaging 13.3 points and 9.6 points per game, posted yet another all-around stat line, scoring 14 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out six assists.

Wisconsin led 31-21 after the first half, holding the Phoenix to 34.6 percent shooting despite shooting just 37.5 percent itself. In the second half, the Badgers shot 15-of-27 (55.6 percent) while attempting 17 free throws.

After pulling to within nine points at 45-36, Green Bay went scoreless on seven consecutive possessions, while Wisconsin used a 10-0 run to pull away. The Badgers reached their largest lead of the night by grabbing a 24-point lead with 7:22 left to play on a pair of Hayes free throws.

Forward Kerem Kanter, the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Enes Kanter, led the Phoenix with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting.