MADISON—The Wisconsin Badgers took care of business inside the Kohl Center on Saturday, stymieing the Northwestern Wildcats in a 62-46 victory.
Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ showed again why he is one of the best players in college basketball today in recording another triple-double. Guards D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison stepped up for Wisconsin (14-6, 6-3 Big Ten) in the scoring department, tying for a game-high 18 points each.
More importantly, the defense constricted many scoring opportunities for Northwestern (12-8, 3-6) as Wisconsin allow the Wildcats to shoot just 29.6 percent.
Here are some takeaways from the Wisconsin win, which stretched their winning streak to three games heading into next Tuesday night’s road match-up at Nebraska.
We witnessed another special Ethan Happ moment
The All-American candidate recorded his second triple-double of the season—the third in school history—with his 13-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance.
When asked if he was aware during the game that he was close to the achievement, Happ mentioned the bench pointed it out.
“The guys on the bench, Mike Ballard, said, ‘Give me one rebound, ‘and I was like, ‘What are you talking about? Why are you talking to me?’’” Happ said after the game with laughs erupting from Trice, Davison and the media. “He doesn’t talk to me during games really that much, so I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And then I looked up, and I saw I needed one more rebound to get it, so I was aware once I got it, yeah.”
I have been pondering this for a while, so let me pose this question: Do we, who watch (and for me, cover and report on) Happ on a regular basis for so many years, take him for granted?
Maybe we see the difficulties at the free throw line, as seen with shooting 1-of-5 on Saturday, or him not having the range of other previous Wisconsin big men like Jon Leuer, Frank Kaminsky or even currently what Nate Reuvers has shown in flashes.
Yet he continually presents match-up problems for opponents, as evident by the many head coaches’ complements about him.
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins praised Happ after the game as a “phenomenal player and he impacts winning in so many ways.”
He also described the All-American candidate as a “nightmare“ when he has to prepare his team, “because he’s like a point guard at the center position.”
“He brings it up. He can drive you from the perimeter. He can get you from the low post,” Collins said. “He’s a terrific passer. He’s great on the offensive glass. He’s great defensively. He’s got great instincts and hands for steals and blocked shots. I mean he’s a terrific college player.”
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard praised Happ for his defensive work against Northwestern senior center Dererk Pardon (eight points, 11 rebounds), especially with sophomore forward Nate Reuvers in foul trouble.
After the game, a reporter asked Trice and Davison about stepping back to reflect on playing with someone like Happ.
“It’s definitely something you have to appreciate because I’ve got two years, ‘Meech’ has got three years [with Happ], and it goes by fast so just trying to take it one moment at a time,” Davison said. “We want to send him out right, and we all have the same common goal. Those aren’t personal goals. Those are team goals, and I think that’s what I admire most about [him]. He wants to win. He cares about winning the most so we’re all right behind that, but definitely you have to appreciate—I mean you see all the statistics, he’s going to go down as one of the Big Ten greats, so it’s an honor to play with him.”
With all the talk of Nate Reuvers, let’s not forget about the backcourt
With Happ scoring just 13 and Reuvers not a factor with fouls (three points in 14 minutes), Trice and Davison combined for 36 points. The former hit on seven of 11 attempts overall—four of six from three-point range—while the latter made three of six from deep.
Northwestern’s opponents came into the game shooting just 27.7 percent from three-point range—best in the Big Ten. Collins believed his defense played well in only give up 62 points to Wisconsin in the loss, but also admitted after the game that the Wildcats would give up some looks. He pointed to Happ as one of the reasons why the Badgers overall shot 47.4 percent (nine of 19) on three-point attempts.
“Ethan puts you in that, he is a hard guy to prepare for,” Collins said. “If you play him single coverage all night, he’s probably going to foul your big guys out, and we need Pardon on the floor. You have to give him different looks. He’s so smart. He’s seen everything in five years. He’s seen every coverage, he knows where his guys are. He’s just an incredible college player, and so we ran some doubles at him at times. We played single coverage at times, and we did have a couple breakdowns but you’re going to have that when you’re scrambling a little bit.
“Then give Brad and D’Mitrik, especially those guys, the credit. I mean those two guys go seven of 12 from three, and when they’re shooting like that with Happ, they become a very difficult team to beat.”
Temperatures may be cool, but @DMitrikTrice0 is on fire. @BadgerMBB pic.twitter.com/HGFwagZZsZ— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) January 26, 2019
Wisconsin’s defense stepped up huge
Collins mentioned a few times during the postgame presser that he felt Northwestern’s defense played well, but it was the other end of the court that cost his team the game.
“We lost because they defended us really well and we could not score,” Collins said.
Wisconsin held Northwestern to just 29.6 percent shooting (16 of 54) from the field, seven of 19 from three-point range for the contest. In a second half where the Badgers never saw their lead dwindle down to single digits but extended by as much as 18, the Wildcats only shot 23.3 percent (seven of 30). That contributed to an NU season-low in points scored.
When asked if the team has come a long way defensively in the past month, Happ mentioned development and urgency as factors.
“We were still kind of learning and growing, and I think a big part of it—not only our awareness of everyone else on the floor, covering up for guys, but also just playing with more of a sense of urgency,” Happ said. “Being a little more locked in right away. Then, playing well on offense has helped, kind of that helps your mojo, if you will, on the other end, too.”
Trice believes the increased defensive presence lately starts with practice.
“We’ve changed our mindset in practice in going harder, and we lost a few games because of our defense,” Trice said. “Just changing our mindset during practice before the game even starts and then that makes the game a little bit easier so just playing compact, Wisconsin-type defense. Hard-nosed, grit, and boxing out is the biggest thing for us, so just getting back to playing how we know we can play and focusing on defense mainly.”
Here’s a fun stat, courtesy of UW: In 39 straight meetings, the Badgers have held the Wildcats to 70 or fewer points.
Khalil Iverson can dunk
- Honestly, this was just pretty:
Khalil Iverson lookin like Dominique.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 26, 2019
The @BadgerMBB high-flyer pulls off the double-pump reverse! pic.twitter.com/6JbdjlwDwA
The fire emoji sign in the background makes it look like Khalil Iverson is about to throw down a flaming ball: pic.twitter.com/Gyz7C30C4Y— Alex Roux (@arouxBTN) January 26, 2019
A very fitting emoji in this @iverson_khalil screenshot pic.twitter.com/nD25pMwdSi— Curt Hogg (@CyrtHogg) January 26, 2019