Mondays with Rasty: UW silences doubters but issues remain

Nigel Hayes and the Badgers may have finally broken out of their slump in the second half against Maryland Sunday.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

At least for the moment, Wisconsin has righted the ship and is back on course toward at least a share of the Big Ten title.

Thanks to an emphatic 11-point win over Maryland Sunday afternoon, the Badgers sit tied with Purdue atop the conference standings with only four games left in the regular season. Perhaps equally as important as the win itself was the way UW did it.

Coming into Sunday, the Badgers were averaging under 40 percent from the field over their previous six games, culminating in back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Michigan that knocked them from their perch in the Big Ten standings. With Bronson Koenig hampered by a calf injury, Wisconsin seemed lost in the wilderness on the offensive end—a far cry from the team that we saw early on in the season. Did an injured Koenig really hurt the team to this degree? Did they catch a severe case of the Rutgers when they played the Scarlet Knights at Madison Square Garden? Whatever the cause(s), the Badgers have seemed unable to figure things out on offense.

In the first half against the Terrapins, it was more of the same. The Badgers shot 28 percent from the field and coughed up the ball seven times, scoring a putrid 0.75 points per possession. But by the grace of Maryland’s 11 turnovers, they only trailed by six points at the break.

Apparently, something significant happened in the locker room. Maybe all it took was Greg Gard and the coaching staff making an adjustment or two to finally get the offense humming—there certainly seemed to be a more concerted effort to get into the post and play inside out. Or perhaps an exorcism was performed to banish that pesky Rutgers demon back to Piscataway. In any event, the Badgers finally looked crisp on offense in the second half.

Wisconsin outscored Maryland 44-27 over the game’s final 20 minutes, overcoming a valiant effort from Melo Trimble to capture a much-needed victory. Despite a 1-of-6 mark from deep, UW scored 1.42 points per possession in the second half. Thirteen second-chance points on 10 offensive boards and limiting yourself to one turnover has its benefits.

It was Nigel Hayes who provided the Badgers with the spark they needed. He scored 14 of his team-high 21 points in the second half, thanks in large part to his aggression in the post that resulted in 14 free-throw attempts. With Happ and Vitto Brown on the bench with foul trouble, it was Hayes who stepped up to ensure a UW win.

Now obviously one half doesn’t suddenly mean everything is all sunshine and smiles for the Wisconsin offense. The Badgers still shot 41.4 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from the charity stripe for the game. But still, it was clearly encouraging to see them unleash a month’s worth of pent-up frustration on a quality opponent.

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