A blistering start and another excellent performance from sophomore guard Bronson Koenig were all the Badgers needed to cruise past the Northwestern Wildcats Saturday evening.
Koenig and junior forward Sam Dekker each scored 16 points as No. 5 Wisconsin (9-1 Big Ten, 21-2 overall) defeated the Wildcats (1-9, 10-13) 65-50 at the Kohl Center. The 16 points were a career high for Koenig, who was 6-10 from the field, including 4-8 on 3-pointers.
“[Koenig] was a guy that hit some big ones for us,” said UW head coach Bo Ryan. “He didn’t panic out there, he made good ball fakes, and he set up other guys. A lot of times he made the pass that led to the pass to the basket.”
Senior forward Frank Kaminsky finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and sophomore forward Nigel Hayes added 11 points, all of which came in the first half. Redshirt senior Josh Gasser also recorded eight points and a season-high nine rebounds for the Badgers.
Junior center Alex Olah led the way for the Wildcats with 15 points and freshman guard Bryant McIntosh added 13.
Gasser made the 127th start of his Wisconsin career in Saturday’s game, passing Alando Tucker for the most in program history. In typical Gasser fashion, he made several key hustle plays for the Badgers, including an incredible leaping save to keep the ball from going out of bounds and a dive into the crowd to try and save another.
“[Gasser’s] just a young man that we saw play like that even back in high school and the summers in AAU, and he hasn’t changed,” Ryan said. “He doesn’t miss much in life and you’ve got to love being around those types of guys.”
Gasser also held Northwestern’s second-leading scorer, redshirt junior guard Tre Demps, to just seven points.
The Wisconsin offense came out firing on all cylinders to start the game, starting 8-11 from the floor and 3-4 from beyond the arc on its way to a 21-4 lead.
Northwestern, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a shot in the early going. At one point midway through the first half, the Wildcats had more fouls (7) than points (6) after committing five fouls on a single possession.
However, the Badger offense stalled after the hot start, going over five minutes without a field goal during one stretch as Northwestern’s 2-3 zone buckled down.
Despite this, Wisconsin still took a commanding 37-21 lead into the locker room at the half.
The last 20 minutes of the game was much more of a back-and-forth affair, with the Wildcats never managing to cut the UW lead to single digits.
Northwestern actually outshot the Badgers, 39.6 percent to 38.9 percent, but Wisconsin made up for it by grabbing 15 offensive rebounds, 10 more than the Wildcats, and going 14-17 from the charity stripe. The Badgers also outrebounded Northwestern 39-25 and committed just five turnovers.
“Overall, we held them to 39 percent shooting average. If you would've told me that before the game, I would've taken it,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins. “We just had a hard time rebounding out of our zone.”
With the win, Wisconsin now has won six straight and moves to 21-2 on the season, tied for the best 23-game start in school history. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have now lost nine in a row, a losing streak that started at the hands of the Badgers.
“[Wisconsin] is a model of what we’re trying to build,” Collins said. “They're as good a team we've played all year. I say this all the time, when I'm not competing against them, I love watching them play.”
The Badgers will now travel to Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on the Cornhuskers Tuesday at 8 p.m.