Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes key Wisconsin Badgers blow-out win over Northwestern Wildcats

With a victory over Florida Friday night, the Badgers would advance to their third Elite Eight in four years.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

WASHINGTON — Sometimes, everything goes right. After a brutal stretch of games in the middle of the season, the Badgers put together their most complete game of the season as everyone got in on the action, including Ethan Happ at the free-throw line.

The redshirt sophomore forward had his best shooting performance of the season as No. 24 Wisconsin (12-6 Big Ten, 25-8 overall) laid waste to Northwestern (10-8, 23-11), 76-48, to earn a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.

Though the Badgers shot the lights out in the second half, it was the defense that looked most impressive in the semifinal. The Wildcats failed to score 50 points for the first time all year as UW gave up a stunningly low .76 points per possession.

The primary factor in that stellar defensive performance was the play of redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter, who matched up with NU’s Bryant McIntosh and held him to just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting. After McIntosh ran all over the Badgers in the first outing, they zeroed in on him Saturday evening.

“We knew that team kind of comes and goes with him,” Showalter said. “So to take him out of it and just make life difficult for him, that was goal number one, two and three.”

And when Showalter wasn’t locking down the Wildcats’ No. 1 threat on one end, he was busy making plays on the offensive end. He registered 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, his fifth-consecutive game with double-digit points, the longest such streak of his entire career.

“[I’m] just getting the ball in good spots, making plays when I need to,” he said. “I’m not being overly aggressive.”

Also key in the victory was a lights-out showing from senior forward Nigel Hayes. Hayes has had his share of struggles this season, but he found none with the ball in his hand at the Verizon Center. He finished with a game-high 18 points on an efficient 7-of-11 shooting and buried two 3-pointers, his first multi-three game since Dec. 3 against Oklahoma. He also added 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double.

After giving up 80 points in back-to-back games, the Badgers haven’t allowed more than 60 in four-straight contests, culminating in the putrid 48-point performance from NU. They credit that to improved help defensive and better defensive rebounding.

“I think we're doing a better job of having that other guy hover around and be able to help so you can't get easy one-on-one matchups,” senior forward Vitto Brown said. “And then obviously limiting second chance opportunities, I think that kind of took them out of it mentally.”

Next up, UW will face Michigan in the conference title game hoping to reclaim its place at the top of the Big Ten in the postseason tourney. There are bragging rights and an automatic trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line, and the Badgers seem to be playing their best basketball at just the right time.

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