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Defense stymies Idaho State as Wisconsin rolls to win

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The No. 17 Badgers took care of business against the Bengals on Wednesday night, forcing more turnovers than their opponent had made field goals.

MADISON—Three days prior their game at Marquette on Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers had a flurry of options for a tune-up contest leading up to the in-state rivalry showdown.

Perhaps the No. 17 Badgers could have scrimmaged a local high school squad.

Otherwise, the Southeast Recreational Facility is located just feet away from the Kohl Center and was open until midnight with fellow students to serve as over-matched competition and open courts available.

If none of those choices worked, the Badgers, if so compelled, could even take on Idaho State at home.

It was the third option that played out, leaving the visiting head coach asking a query more likely to come from the college kids at the school gym.

“The first thing is: is this tequila?” Bengals head coach Bill Evans quipped, lifting up the bottle of Aspire resting on the media room dais. “Because if it’s not tequila, I’m not really interested.”

Mike’s Secret Stuff from “Space Jam”may have been the better-suited beverage for Idaho State on Wednesday as the Badgers, led by 21 points from guard Bronson Koenig and forward Ethan Happ’s 12 points and 12 rebounds, completed a 78-44 rout.

As expected, Wisconsin wasted no time in taking care of business. Facing the No. 271-ranked team by KenPom.com, the Badgers jumped out to a 21-3 lead and coasted from there.

It was business as usual for the highly-ranked Wisconsin defense, with Idaho State’s 44 points the lowest single-game output against the Badgers this season. Bengals leading scorer Ethan Telfair had more turnovers (three) than points (two) on 1-of-9 shooting, a steep drop from his season average of 19.8 points per game.

“I thought we really steered him toward other defenders,” Badgers head coach Greg Gard said. “We knew we couldn’t defend him one-on-one. We wanted to try to wall up as much as possible, to use some of our terminology. Really make it hard for him to get any gaps, any separation, and I thought for the most part we did a really good job.”

Much of the work on Telfair was accomplished by guard Zak Showalter, who tallied four steals as a part of an all-around game in which he scored four points and had three assists and five rebounds.

Idaho State scored .638 points per possession, shooting 33 percent (16-of-48) from the field as the Badgers forced 17 turnovers.

“You’re trying to continue to work on the things that you’ve been working on for x number of months,” Gard said. “But defensively we’ve started to see some things come together around the floor We were really active off the ball. We really closed gaps pretty well. It was hard for them to get in the paint.”

Coming off of recent games against Syracuse and Oklahoma, staked to a comfortable advantage and looking ahead to the trip to Milwaukee to face the Golden Eagles on Saturday, the Badgers dispersed minutes throughout the lineup. Reserve guard D’Mitrik Trice led the team with 26 minutes as Koenig and starting forward Vitto Brown saw just 17 minutes.

“You want to try to play sharp,” Gard said. “You understand the level of competition quote, plus we’re coming off two pretty high-end games, where there’s going to be maybe a bit of squeaking of gears, so to speak.

“To be able to have guys on the bench that we can go to to provide a little spark here and there, that obviously helps.”

Koenig scored the first five points of the game, but foul trouble resulted in just seven first-half minutes for the senior point guard. To put the icing on Wisconsin’s victory late in the second half, Koenig scored 11 points over 2:39.

Against an admittedly poor defensive team, Wisconsin scored 1.147 points per possession and shot 6-of-20 from deep and 12-of-22 from the free throw line. Three of the Badgers’ 10 turnovers belonged to guard Khalil Iverson, but so did the highlight of the game.

Late in the first half, Trice skied a lob toward the rim to Iverson, who soared over a helpless defender for the dunk on the alley-oop.

After claiming an early 21-3 lead, Wisconsin led 35-16 at the half. Happ scored 11 points and Nigel Hayes scored 10 of his 11 points, but the Badgers shot just 2-of-10 on three-pointers and 5-of-11 from the free throw line.