WASHINGTON ? The Badgers opened their Big Ten Tournament semifinal game with two airballs in the first three possessions. Seniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes each missed everything on jumpers in the first two minutes, and UW had nowhere to go but up—and up it went.
The No. 24 Badgers (12-6 Big Ten, 25-8 overall) were firing on all cylinders for the majority of the night as they breezed past upstart Northwestern (10-8, 23-11) by a score of 76-48 to earn a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game for the second time in three years.
UW raced out to a quick 10-2 lead as it held the Wildcats to just one field goal over the first 7:28. After pushing the lead as high as 12 midway through the first period, NU would crawl back into the game, cutting the lead to four thanks to three timely jump shots.
From then on, it was all Badgers in the first half, as they methodically worked the ball around the perimeter and found open guys all over the court. But while the offense did its job, it was the UW defense that put the knife in the heart of Northwestern. The Wildcats made just one field goal over the final 7:44 as the Badgers took a 17-point lead into the locker room.
That lead never shrank smaller than 15 points in the second half, and would eventually balloon as high as 33. Wisconsin’s sharpest start-to-finish performance was spurred on by an excellent outing for Hayes, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and a remarkable free-throw shooting night from redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ.
Happ made 8 of his 11 attempts from the foul line on the night, tied for his highest total of the season and by far his best percentage with at least four attempts.
Redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter turned in his fifth-straight double-digit scoring game, the longest streak of 10-plus points in his five-year career at UW. He finished the night with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and played a key defensive role guarding Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh.
Overall, the Badgers defense gave up just 48 points on .76 points per possession. With three-straight convincing wins, UW is back on track. The Badgers now move on to the Big Ten title game tomorrow against Michigan looking to avenge another late-season loss and vault themselves into an NCAA Tournament run.