Leading from start to finish, the No. 24 Wisconsin Badgers (13-6 Big Ten, 20-10 overall) earned its seventh straight victory after defeating the Northwestern Wildcats (2-17 Big Ten, 7-22 overall) 63-48. The Badgers improved to 15-1 at home for the season as head coach Greg Gard secured career victory number 100.
Before the game, the team honored senior guards Michael Ballard and Brevin Pritzl, as well as former Badger Rashard Griffith from the 1993-95 team, who will be completing his degree at Wisconsin in May, during a senior night ceremony.
During the first 10 minutes of play, the Badgers executed well offensively, gaining a quick 11-3 lead over the Wildcats. Pritzl did what he has done all year and provided a great spark of energy for the Badgers with two big threes in the first half. Feeding off his momentum, junior forward Nate Reuvers was key in establishing a lead for Wisconsin in the first half. However, Pritzl and Reuvers were just two of nine Badgers who got their names in the scorebook.
Although Wisconsin started the game sinking almost every shot it took, the momentum came to a standstill midway through the first half, which allowed Northwestern to crawl its way back to a single digit deficit after trailing by as much as 17. The Wildcats were led by sophomore guard Pete Nance in the first half with eight points, followed closely by reshirdshirt freshman center Ryan Young with seven points.
In the second half, the outside shot was still not where it was in the beginning of the game for the Badgers, but Wisconsin found other ways to maintain the lead with his defense. The Badgers forced the Wildcats into 11 turnovers which helped minimize the chance for offensive bursts from Northwestern.
Wisconsin was also all over the boards, and only allowed one second chance point for Northwestern all night. Junior forward Aleem Ford had a solid performance on the glass with eight rebounds and nine points. Junior guard Brad Davison filled his stat sheet with eight rebounds and nine points as well.
Closing in on the final minutes of the game, Northwestern continued to push the ball hard, but had bad luck at the rim, finishing the night 17-54 from the field.
The Badgers on the other hand were not that far off, as they finished the game shooting just 39 percent. Despite the struggle to score consistently throughout the game, nine Badgers were still able to put the ball in the bucket, including Ballard who checked into the final minute of the game. It was clear that the team wanted to get the ball to Ballard as time was winding down, and once they did, Ballard took it to the rim with a layup, which Pritzl jokingly said after the game was a blatant travel.
“You know, he was able to get a bucket which we were all really happy about, he might have travelled to get there but it doesn’t matter, all that matters is he got his name in that scorebook and I am proud of him,” said Pritzl.
Another thing the team and Coach Gard can be proud of is how hard the team has worked this season to be in the position they are now. With the win over Northwestern, Wisconsin secured a tie for first in the Big Ten and has the opportunity to play for the regular season title.
Even with such a drastic turn around mid-season, the team is still taking it day by day. Junior guard D’Mitrik Trice, who ended the game with eight points and four assists, made it clear that there is still plenty of work remaining.
“We aren’t done yet. We got one more to go,” said Trice. “It’s going to be a tough game at Indiana on Saturday, so we are tied at first and that’s a great feeling, but we got to get back to the drawing board, there is still a lot of things that we can clean up.”
Davison joined in and complemented the team on the way it has stuck together this season after facing some adversity at certain points, and expressed how he feels to be tied for first in the Big Ten.
“It’s a blessing for so many reasons,” said Davison. “Just going back to the summer and going through the season, just how our team has stuck together and has come together and now we have an opportunity to play for the Big Ten regular season title. You know that’s why you come to school at Wisconsin — that’s why we all wear the W on our chest — to have these sorts of opportunities.”
Even Coach Gard acknowledged the excitement for his team to finish 15-1 at home, and have the chance to play for the Big Ten title, but knows it’s still a tough road ahead.
“I was happy to finish out with a win and happy to get Mike in there in the end and happy for Brevin, guys who have committed a lot to this program over their careers,” said Coach Gard. “So, now we get ready to head to Bloomington, and who would have thought a couple months ago we get the chance to play for the Big Ten championship.”