In the week leading up to his team’s final game of the regular season, Bronson Koenig made one thing clear: He wants to be remembered as a winner.
After playing just five minutes in the first half thanks to two early fouls, the senior guard reiterated his sentiments on the court, burying five second-half threes en route to a blowout of Minnesota (11-7 Big Ten, 23-8 overall).
Koenig led the way as the No. 22 Badgers (12-6, 23-8) ran away with a victory on senior night, 66-49.
UW trailed by two points at the break, as they shot just 38.7 percent from the floor and missed four of their five free throws. But a monster 18-2 run midway through the second half gave the Badgers a 13-point lead that they would never look back from.
With 16:58 left in the game, Koenig hit his second 3-pointer of the night to knot the game at 33 apiece. Senior forward Nigel Hayes followed that up with a three of his own, his first made deep shot since a game-winner against Nebraska in early February.
While the seniors got the ball rolling, it was freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice that woke the team up with a 4-point play that pushed the lead to nine. Just under a minute later, senior forward Vitto Brown took a pick-and-roll pass from Koenig straight to the hoop and threw down a vicious one-handed slam.
Trice played 26 minutes on the night, three more than Koenig, as his first-half play allowed his senior teammate to rest and avoid worse foul trouble. He gave the Badgers a steady ball handler even with Koenig sidelined for 15 minutes.
“I’m able to [rest Koenig] because of D’Mitrik Trice,” head coach Greg Gard said. “I trust him completely, and that allows that to happen.”
After the Golden Gophers cut the lead back down to six on a three from Amir Coffey with 6:20 to play, UW closed the game on a 15-4 run to crush any hopes of a Minnesota comeback. With the win, seniors Koenig, Hayes, Brown and Zak Showalter closed their Kohl Center careers with a victory, but there’s still more that the quartet wants to accomplish.
“I definitely think there’s some unfinished business we have, especially with our early exit last year in the Big Ten tournament,” Koenig said. “We want to take every game, take every day seriously and just get better every single day.”
Koenig’s hot shooting was the key against what had been a red-hot Minnesota team. As the Golden Gophers closed the gap a little, he buried back-to-back-to-back threes in a span of 68 seconds that sealed the deal.
“It felt great to finally start seeing my shots fall,” he said. “I just told myself to keep staying aggressive, keep shooting, and I guess that's what I do is just close games.”
The Badgers locked up the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and avoided having to potentially face No. 1 seed Purdue in the semifinals. They earned a double-bye and a top-four finish in the conference standings for the 16th year in a row.
The senior class of Hayes, Koenig, Showalter and Brown tied for second in school history with 111 wins in the last four years, and could break the 2012-2015 record of 115 wins with runs in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.