I have a lot of things I could say about the game between No. 9 Wisconsin (11-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) and Rutgers (7-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten), but instead I will celebrate the Badgers 60-54 win here for a graf or two.
After a close first half that ended 33-32 for Wisconsin, The second half was an insanely gritty affair that saw both teams shoot under 31 percent in the second half. Statistically, Rutgers outclassed Wisconsin in just about every category in the second half, but thanks to free throws and fast break points the Badgers were able to gut it out for their first win in the RAC since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten.
“This was really such an effort and scrap game, everyone that got on the floor tonight had the energy, grit and togetherness you need to win against Rutgers,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “It’s not always going to be pretty or look good on the stat sheet, but you need to match how hard they play.”
D’Mitrik Trice was fantastic again, extending his great run of play since the Michigan State game on Christmas Day. His stats don’t exactly jump off the page (13 points, four rebounds, five assists and a couple steals), but Trice led a crucial 12-0 run late in the second half, scoring eight points that put Wisconsin up by 10 over Rutgers, a lead they couldn’t overcome.
Aleem Ford also continued to show growth in his game against Rutgers, stuffing the stat sheet with 14 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals. After being used primarily as a three point scorer for his first three years at UW, Ford has started to work inside a lot more this year with fantastic results, scoring all his points inside the arc tonight on 55 percent shooting.
The Badger bench finally came alive on the sideline as well after having not shown much gusto early in the year. The bench barely sat the entire game, and was able to manufacture enough energy to keep Wisconsin’s momentum from ever falling flat on its face, which makes a huge difference to players on the court.
“We came into this game with a defensive mindset because you aren’t always going to hit shots,” Ford said after the game. “We did well to stick to that the entire game, and bounced back from a few tough stretches with the help from the bench. A big shout out to them, they brought a lot of energy today and we felt it.”
Well, for as nice a win as it was, Wisconsin should have lost this game. The Badgers are very, very lucky to have won against Rutgers.
When the Badgers can’t control the paint this season, usually bad things happen. In losses this year the Badgers are giving up 38 points down low, compared to just 27 in wins, and against Rutgers there were major problems guarding the paint all night. The Scarlet Knights scored 42 points in the paint on the night, compared to just 18 points for Wisconsin — winning this game makes it an ultra outlier for Wisconsin.
“[Rutgers is] a handful to keep out of the paint, and always have been,” Gard said. “It’s really hard to keep them out, so give credit to Rutgers.”
Wisconsin also shot an insane number of three’s in this game, and it really didn’t work. The Badgers went 6-25 (24 percent) from three-point range, compared to 13-29 (45 percent) from inside the arc.
If you take into account that two of the six made three’s came in the games first four minutes off a hot start from Brad Davison, the numbers get even worse. Not counting his 2-3 start from deep, and Wisconsin shot a downright dismal 4-22 (18 percent) from three-point range.
It’s not even like Wisconsin shot a lot of three’s in the first half, and then decided to move away from it in the second. The Badgers actually shot MORE three’s in the second half (15) than the first half (10), and even shot more three’s in the second than two-point attempts (13). Their shooting percentage from three in the second half? Twenty percent on 3-15 shooting — not great.
Unless you are the Golden State Warriors, shooting more threes than twos in a game is a terrible strategy to win a basketball game. Luckily it didn’t come back to haunt the Badgers.
The only reason Wisconsin was able to pull out this game was because of some suffocating defense played on Rutgers, which has continued to perform at an elite level all season. Rutgers somehow shot an even worse percentage from three in the second half than Wisconsin — 0 percent on 0-11 shooting. If just three of those shots go in, and Wisconsin loses the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled Wisconsin won this game, but that was absolutely not a recipe for success the rest of the season. The Badgers absolutely need to establish themselves in the paint going forward, instead of settling for less than ideal jump shots throughout the entire game.
Wisconsin will be back in action Wednesday night in a matchup against Northwestern back in Madison at the Kohl Center. Tip is set for 8 p.m..