With all five of its starters scoring double figures, Wisconsin (2-1) cruised by North Dakota (1-1) 78-64 at the Kohl Center Tuesday.
The Badgers never trailed against North Dakota, as junior guard Bronson Koenig and redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ contributed significantly on offense, adding 17 points a piece.
Koenig, who has averaged 19.0 points per game this season, proved once again that he is one of the nation’s best guards, as he made three 3-pointers, brought down five rebounds and dished out four assists.
“He’s so good with the ball in his hands,” North Dakota head coach Brian Jones said.
Despite Koenig’s versatile performance, Happ finally became an offensive presence after playing limited minutes in his first two games due to early foul trouble.
The forward shot 63.6 percent from the field, brought down five offensive rebounds and simply looked more comfortable on court.
Head coach Bo Ryan took notice of Happ’s success, but reminded reporters that the forward is still developing.
“He’d have days [during practice] where you scratch your head and other days where you use two hands to scratch your head,” Ryan said. “When you scratch your head with one hand, that’s not good. Two hands, that’s good. [But] he was having fun out there [tonight].
Jones even compared Happ to professional basketball player and Wisconsin alum Mike Wilkinson.
“To me he’s a lot like Mike Wilkinson. Mike was kind of an undersized post, but was just crafty and had big hands and was just very efficient with what he does. I think that’s what [Happ’s] going to be for these guys,” Jones said.
Junior forward Nigel Hayes struggled shooting, as he only made 4-of-13 field goal attempts, but he set up his teammates nicely, leading the team with seven assists. Though his offensive stats haven’t been as spectacular as fans may have wanted to see thus far, the Badgers still believe Hayes is one the team’s best players and is doing other important things aside from scoring.
“Don’t tell Nigel this, but he’s a great player. He can score when we need him to and he’s done such a great job once he gets in the paint to distribute to our whole team,” Happ said. “He’s been really good for us this year.”
While Wisconsin has bounced back nicely from its home-opening loss, it still continues to have difficulties on the defensive side of the ball, as it has allowed its opponents to score an average of 66 points per game and shoot 46.8 percent from the field.
In comparison to their first three games last year, the Badgers were giving up a stingy 45.3 points per game and holding opponents’ field goal percentage to 31.3 percent.
Despite the vast difference in their defensive performance from last year, Wisconsin has taken notice of the drop off and is working diligently to make improvements.
“We’re still learning a lot of stuff on defense and obviously we got a lot of holes and we’re still working to fill those,” junior guard Zak Showalter said.
Although North Dakota shot a healthy 48 percent from the field, it struggled mightily from the free throw line, as it hit 9-of-17 from the charity stripe, which enabled the Badgers to control their lead.
Guard Geno Crandall led North Dakota with 19 points and six 3-pointers, but North Dakota was simply overmatched.
While Wisconsin has recovered from its inexcusable loss to Western Illinois, it will face a much tougher challenge this weekend at the 2K Hoops Classic Tournament hosted in Madison Square Garden in New York.
The Badgers will host the Georgetown Hoyas at 4 p.m. Friday and, with a win, will have a matchup against either VCU or reigning NCAA champion Duke.