Continuing in its success, Wisconsin (10-6 Big Ten, 17-10 overall) secured its fourth-straight win with a 79-71 victory over Rutgers (9-8 Big Ten, 18-10 overall) and improved to 13-1 at home this season.
Earlier this year, the Badgers fell to the Scarlet Knights 72-65 on the road, but with junior forward Micah Potter on the floor this time around, Wisconsin was ready for a retake, as senior guard Brevin Pritzl put it.
“Coach Gard is big on telling us about retake tests,” said Pritzl, “so you know we failed the first test and now we get a chance to do it again, improve on what we got wrong. A lot of that is understanding what we went through on film, what he [Gard] said that we messed up on and taking action on it.”
Evidently, Wisconsin learned from its mistakes because although Rutgers came out with intensity and secured a quick lead over Wisconsin during the first few minutes of action, the Badgers reclaimed the lead and never let the Scarlet Knights ahead again. Junior forward Nate Reuvers was a main factor in establishing a solid lead for the Badgers during the first half, being the first to score on the floor. Reuvers was then able to knock down a three, slam one in the paint and tally up 11 points within seven minutes.
Although Rutgers never regained its original lead, it still played with the same intensity it started the game with until the very end. Junior guard Geo Baker served as the go-to-guy on offense for the Scarlet Knights during the first half, finishing with eight points. Baker helped Rutgers gain some momentum during the latter part of the first half when Wisconsin was stuck in a two-minute scoring drought.
However, Pritzl exemplified senior leadership and helped gather the team offensively with a pull up jumper in the lane, and then a big defensive rebound on the other end. That energy translated into a huge three-pointer from Micah Potter on the next play down the court, and the Badgers secured a 10-point lead at the two-minute mark.
After a turnover from Rutgers, Wisconsin held the ball and Potter drained one from behind the arc as the clock expired. The Badgers finished the half up 39-26.
In the first half, the Badgers did a good job capitalizing off of Rutgers’ turnovers as they recorded 11 points off of turnovers, compared to Rutgers’ four. However, Rutgers did dominate Wisconsin in the paint, acquiring 20 of its 26 points from that area alone.
Despite struggles to score in the paint, the five spot for Wisconsin showed up big on different areas of the floor. Both Reuvers and Potter greatly contributed on the offensive end at varying moments in the game.
“I thought they were both good in spurts. You know, I thought Nate obviously in the first half and Micah had some good things in the first too, but Micah gave us a big boost in the second half,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “I thought they complimented each other pretty well, and we needed it.”
As for Rutgers, it too had a second half star who helped chip away at Wisconsin’s lead during certain points. Sophomore guard/forward Ron Harper Jr. had just six points in the first half, but went off in the second and finished as the game’s leading scorer with 21 points. Despite Harper’s explosiveness on the offensive end in the second half, his actions were not enough to warrant a victory over the Badgers.
During the final minutes the Scarlet Knights pulled within five points, but the Badgers showed great composure at the line and hit free throws when it mattered most to ice the game. Junior guard D’Mitrik Trice was instrumental in the final minutes of the game, hitting a clutch jumper and a handful of free throws to keep the Badgers ahead. Coach Gard noted Trice’s growth as a team leader.
“Trice’s development and evolution is kind of a microcosm of what this team has done and how they have grown…Trice’s development and evolution as a point guard, he has become tougher minded. He has become a go to guy in that regard.”
Coach Gard went on to say that Trice is not the only one who has changed and toughen up throughout the season, and how he is proud of the adversity that his team has overcome as they have now positioned themselves in a tie for second in the Big Ten.
“We didn’t handle adversity well in the beginning of the year. This group has mentally toughened up, and responded and matured and I am proud of them,” Gard said. “This group has come through more than any group I have been around in 30 years of coaching in terms of the outside things they have overcome.”
Overall, the Badgers had four players record big time stats against Rutgers, including Potter who led the team with 18 points and nine rebounds. Trailing close behind were Reuvers and Pritzl, both with 17 points, and finally junior guard Brad Davison who surpassed 1000 career points with 15 today.
Looking ahead, the Badgers are currently in a four-team tie for second in the Big Ten, and when asked about what this means to the team, Coach Gard put it simply.
“We know what we want is still possible out in front of us, but we always operate in a mindset of one day, one game at a time. It’s one day at a time.”
Therefore, the Badgers will take it one day at a time as they prepare to face Michigan on the road Thursday.