After two-plus weeks of rough defeats and losing four of five heading into Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers managed to upset the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines at home with a 64-54 victory at the Kohl Center.
Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ recorded a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds plus seven assists, while an all-around tough defensive effort held Michigan (17-1, 6-1 Big Ten) to 40.7 percent shooting while forcing 16 turnovers.
Wisconsin (12-6, 4-3) received key plays from several Badgers at critical moments and now has breathed some fresh life into its conference season. Now a road test at Illinois awaits them on Jan. 23.
Let’s look at some quick takeaways from the game.
Wisconsin did not flinch late in a close game
Against Maryland on Monday, Wisconsin could not hold that slim advantage over the Terps after Brad Davison’s three with 2:01 remaining—then Nate Reuvers could not connect on two three-point attempts in the final 33 seconds. Against Purdue, 17 turnovers and poor rebounding cost the Badgers in the overtime loss. Facing Minnesota on Jan. 3, Greg Gard's squad had an opportunity and momentum to bridge the gap even closer than a two-point deficit late but ultimately fumbled opportunities.
On Saturday, Wisconsin led for the final 7:35 of the game. Despite the lead never going over more than six until the last four seconds of the game, constant hustle plays, great defense and opportune scoring lifted UW to a much-needed win.
The final minute’s play was absolutely critical on both ends of the court. With about 59 seconds left, Isaiah Livers connected on a three-pointer to close the Wisconsin lead to one-possession game at 57-54.
Unlike recent contests, however, the Badgers stepped up. There was help with the Flagrant 1 foul called on Ignas Brazdeikis with about 51 seconds remaining for intentionally fouling Happ. The All-American candidate sank one of two free throws and giving UW possession once again. The big man followed up on his miss and put in a quick basket to give the Badgers up six with 15 seconds left.
On that next Michigan possession, Reuvers presented some fantastic defense on a Zavier Simpson three-point attempt. Happ rewarded the sophomore forward’s play with a long pass for the eventual game-clinching dunk with four seconds remaining.
Wisconsin contained Brazdeikis
Short but sweet here, but the Badgers held the freshman forward to **checks notes** zero points on 0-for-5 shooting. Quite the performance for a kid coming into the contest leading the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game.
Steady contributions flowed from those not named Happ
Happ was the only Badger in double figures scoring—and quite the performance it was against what was the No. 3 defense in the nation according to KenPom—but Reuvers and fellow forward Aleem Ford both contributed nine points.
“He’s huge,” sophomore guard Brad Davison said of Ford. “I think we’ve been, our whole teammates and our coaches have been on him to continue to be confident, continue to be aggressive. The shots will fall, but again, just focus on those little things—being aggressive, getting rebounds and the shots will come, but he’s huge for us.
“Kobe King was huge off the bench as well, and Brevin and ‘Chuck’ [senior forward Charles Thomas] when they get in, there’s a lot more than just scoring in ways that you can impact the game. So all four of them did a great job of coming off the bench, and Aleem was huge. Two big threes, the end one gave us a lot of energy. Those little things just kind of boost each other up and bring us together, so our bench was huge tonight.”
The guards stepped up in solid fashion as well. Davison tallied eight points while also picking up four rebounds and dishing out three assists. D’Mitrik Trice and King both scored six points but also grabbed a combined eight rebounds. King provided five of those, while Trice also provided three assists to teammates.
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard mentioned after the game about how Reuvers did a really good job on Michigan’s ball screens—with Happ praising Reuvers’ ability to shot block and guard Michigan center Jon Teske. Gard also acknowledged Trice keeping pressure on Simpson (just five of 12 from the field on way to 11 points), and Davison was “everywhere.”
“They don’t have a stat for, ‘He’s everywhere.’ I don’t see that on here,” Gard said.
Gard even called out the bench for encouraging and helping coach players from the bench.
“It’s a good sign,” Gard said. “It shows your group is connected.”
It’s the little details that make a win
It felt like Wisconsin was just flying around to the ball all game, but especially in a key sequence that was called out by reporters after the game. Happ hustled for the ball and called a timeout with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. That led to a King three-pointer to put the Badgers up four at 48-44 with 6:48 remaining.
“That’s our All-American,” Davison said. “I don’t know how many All-Americans dive on the floor for loose balls, by ours does.”
Before Happ’s steal on that side of the court, he converted on a layup on the opposite end. That was caused by Davison intercepting a Teske deep pass in creating another turnover. That five-point swing that gave Wisconsin the lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the game.
When asked about those plays, Gard noted that making that extra effort is part of the equation to win each contest.
“We chart it. It’s part of our 12 things we look at when we grade a game,” Gard said. “50-50 balls, did we win it? Obviously those two will go in those categories. I don’t know if we won it yet. I’ll see a final grade probably late tonight or catch up with it over the weekend, but you have to make those plays. That has to be a mentality that’s all the time. Ball’s loose on the floor, there’s a chance 50-50. Got to win it.”
Kobe King received more playing time
The redshirt freshman guard played 31:12 of 40 minutes off the bench during Saturday’s win, and I already mentioned what was on the stat line—but for those that like this stat, he was plus-16.
Against Maryland, King played about 27 minutes in the close road loss. After the game, a reporter asked Gard about King’s recent playing time and if he sees his young guard cracking the starting line-up.
Gard responded that he did not know, but that King has to prove it all again on Monday.
“Match-ups determine one thing. With a lot of guys, how many minutes they get this game, that game, some of it is match-up driven,” Gard said. “Some of it is offensive flow—what I see, what I like, what I don’t like. Somebody’s playing well, might get more minutes. Not playing so well? Maybe don’t get as many, so I don’t get too wound up in who starts. I really never cared about that. We’ll go with who we decide, and we talk about that before each scouting report and what’s our match-ups and find the best fit and go forward.
“You don’t get any extra hamburgers at dinner if you start.”
The final word
“It’s a rule. It’s in the video. Can’t do it. It made the video after last year’s season, so anything that there’s not a play on the ball like that, it’s a rule. So I thought it was the right call.”
—Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard, answering the first postgame question about the Brazdeikis Flagrant 1 (intentional) foul