Perimeter defense key as Wisconsin Badgers look to upset No. 1 Villanova

 Ethan Happ and the Badgers have struggled to close out games through 10 games this season.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Ethan Happ, Zak Showalter and D’Mitrik Trice watched tape in preparation for No. 8 seed Wisconsin’s (26-9) matchup with No. 1 seed Villanova (32-3) Saturday afternoon, they recognized what they were seeing.

“They remind us of us,” Trice said. “They’re fundamental. They don’t press. They don’t get up too high. They do a lot of similar things that we do.”

Villanova head coach Jay Wright, on the other hand, compares the Badgers to the Butler Bulldogs, a team that the Wildcats lost twice to this season.

“They are similar in a lot of ways with their pack-line defense, their physicality,” Wright said. “And I actually think Wisconsin’s bigger, even bigger, than Butler, so probably even tougher.”

Happ has what Wright calls the “best hands” and “best feet” of anyone his team has played against this season. And while the Badgers will need to feed Happ and senior forward Nigel Hayes on the inside to produce on offense, defending Villanova’s talented backcourt will be of the utmost importance as well.

The Wildcats vaunted backcourt is comprised of Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart. Donte DiVencenzo is also one of Villanova’s most important players coming off of the bench.

“It’s not necessarily just stop their one guy,” sophomore swingman Khalil Iverson said. “Because they have multiple guys who can do multiple things, so we just gotta go out there and play team defense.”

In each of Villanova’s three losses, they struggled shooting from the outside. When the Wildcats fell to Marquette, 74-72, they shot merely 17 percent from three. When they lost to Butler for the first time, they shot only 23.1 percent from deep. And when they fell to the Bulldogs for a second time, they shot just 25 percent from behind the arc.

In Villanova’s first half against Mount. St. Mary’s Thursday night, its struggles from deep were a major reason why they led by only one point at the break.

“They definitely have a lot of shooters, and we know that,” Trice said. “We’re just going to stick to our main defense and help each other out as much as possible and run them off the three-point line and make them take contested twos.”

Showalter said that the Badgers will make adjustments as to who guards whom on the fly.

“But I like our matchup,” Showalter said. “I think we have size to matchup with those guys and we hopefully get going on the blocks and in the post early.”

As Showalter alluded, on offense, the Badgers will look to feed Happ and Hayes on the inside time and time again. Butler’s size gave Villanova problems in both regular season meetings between the teams. In Villanova’s 79-76 victory over Purdue, the Boilermakers’ Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas each scored at least 20 points.

Not surprisingly, in preparation for Saturday’s matchup, assistant coach Howard Moore showed UW clips from Villanova’s game against Purdue. Moore said he also showed tape from the Wildcats’ matchup with Notre Dame, another team with an elite forward, and clips from Villanova’s Big East tournament run as well.

“They just know who they are,” Moore said. “They don’t get too high. They don’t get too low.”

That mantra can be applied to Wisconsin as well.

“[I’ve learned] how to remain cool, calm and collected during moments of either low points in the game or high points, knowing that you may get up, but it may not be over yet,” Hayes said. “You still have game left to play and even if another team goes on a run or you get down on that again, there’s more time left.”

The Badgers tip off against the Wildcats Saturday afternoon at 1:40 p.m. from the KeyBank Center.

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