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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Nigel Hayes

Nigel Hayes scored a career-high 25 points Wednesday night.

Men's Basketball: Frontcourt hammers through Green Bay

It could have been Wisconsin’s stacked frontcourt that burned the Phoenix. Could have been the early foul trouble. Could have been Keifer Sykes’ inability to clone himself.

Regardless, the Badgers (3-0) easily dispatched Green Bay (1-1) 84-60, likely the toughest opponent they’ll see until their Thanksgiving date in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Green Bay looked competitive to start the game, with senior guard Sykes and senior forward Greg Mays attacking the basket with ferocious dunks. With eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Phoenix had tied it at 20 and looked like they were going to be every bit the plucky mid-major they were billed as.

Then the Badgers’ frontcourt happened. From that point, there was no time when a Badger big man didn’t seem to be taking over the game, be it senior center Frank Kaminsky, junior forward Sam Dekker or sophomore forward Nigel Hayes. Together, the three combined for 64 points on 22-of-36 shooting, 30 rebounds and eight blocks. The entire frontcourt accounted for 71 of the team’s 84 points.

“We got a lot of weapons on this team, this is a pretty deep team,” Kaminsky said. “We went out and everybody had a good game. I don’t see why we can’t do this more going forward.”

Hayes led the way on offense, finishing with a career-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting. The sophomore looks much more fluid with the ball this year, handling it well and displaying a lethal jump shot.

“[Hayes is] a young man who put an awful lot of time in the offseason on his own,” said head coach Bo Ryan. “I caught Nigel one morning dribbling a tennis ball with one hand and a basketball with the other … He also shoots a lot of shots. It’s another year older, it’s another year wiser. He’s another year better. Look out.”

On the Green Bay side of the ball, it was Sykes and not much else. The aggression the team needed to pull off a massive upset was corralled at the end of the first half by a quick whistle from the referees, leading to 15 fouls called on the Phoenix. Mays and Alfonzo McKinnie fouled out and many others were benched as they ran into trouble.

“Kiefer needed more help in this game,” said Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle. “Greg Mays couldn’t get in a rhythm, McKinnie, it was hard to get in a rhythm … second game of the year, it’s hard to get into a rhythm.”

The fouls came as a result of Wisconsin continuously attacking the paint, exercising the muscle this year’s elite frontcourt grants them. Midway through the second half, the game was at the point where head coach Bo Ryan had four big men on the floor at the same time, with Dekker at the perimeter.

“I use Sam in practice at the 2 at times,” Ryan said. “Sam at the 2 is okay, it’s a wing. You could see all kinds of combos this year.”

With all the hubbub around the team’s talented size, though, there should be a concern at guard depth. UW guards were fairly tentative with the ball, quickly passing it on to their larger teammates.

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It’s a strategy that most definitely worked tonight, but one has to wonder what happens when the Badgers meet another team with an athletic frontcourt capable of going toe-to-toe with them on defense.

Nevertheless, this is still Wisconsin’s most impressive win of the season, a total domination of a team many expect to win the Horizon League and audition as Cinderella in the NCAA tournament.

“Green Bay’s a really good team, make no mistake about that. They’re a very athletic team, I’d say more athletic than us,” Dekker said. “That’s a team that’s going to make a deep run this season in the NCAA tournament.”

The Badgers will move on in their nonconference schedule, welcoming a 3-0 Boise State team to the Kohl Center Saturday at 9 p.m.

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