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No. 14 Badgers blast Rutgers in Big Ten opener

Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) looks to shoot as Rutgers Scarlet Knights center Shaquille Doorson (2) looks on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin defeated Rutgers 72-52. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Tamira Madsen

The Sports Xchange

MADISON — Senior forward Nigel Hayes continues to improve facets of his game and senior guard Zak Showalter is peaking at a good time on offense for No. 14 Wisconsin.

Hayes scored a game-high 20 points to pace No. 14 Wisconsin to a 72-52 win against Rutgers on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams.

Showalter registered 18 points to help Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) earn its eighth consecutive win while sophomore forward Ethan Happ added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said the Badgers have threats at all positions, but Hayes and Showalter made a difference.

“Wisconsin is real deep,” Pikiell said. “You try to do a great job on Hayes — he’s a tough matchup for us. Obviously, he’s a tough matchup for anyone, probably in the league. His versatility causes problems.

“Showalter does a lot of little things that don’t show up sometimes in the box score. I really like him a great deal.”

Junior guard Mike Williams scored a team-high 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Rutgers, which never got closer than nine points in the closing 20 minutes. Junior guard Nigel Johnson finished with 11 points, all in the second half.

The Badgers shot 45.1 percent from the field. Rutgers (11-3, 0-1) made 31.1 percent of its field-goal attempts.

Hayes scored 12 first-half points on 4-of-4 shooting and made all four of his free throws to boost the Badgers to a 33-18 lead at the break.

Showalter, who had double-digit scoring efforts in consecutive wins for the Badgers, registered two assists and three steals against Rutgers.

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said that Showalter’s feistiness and scoring effort keeps opponents on their toes.

“In these type of games, he thrives,” Gard said. “He likes to mix it up, stick your nose in, get knocked around and knock some people around. He’s always been a guy that’s really thrived in that type of game.

“His offensive game has grown and grown, and he’s become very good away from the ball. His offensive repertoire has grown over the course of his career.”

Rutgers shot 28 percent (8 of 25) from the field in the first half. The Scarlet Knights became mired in a scoring drought that lasted 5:13 between their first and second baskets of the game. Besides poor shooting, Rutgers also had a tough time with ball-handling, as Wisconsin forced 12 first-half turnovers.

Williams had a short burst of offense in the first with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions that trimmed Wisconsin’s lead to 22-16. Williams scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half.

Johnson’s 3-point bucket pulled the Scarlet Knights within 53-44 with 8:04 to go.

The Badgers pulled away with foul shooting, as the Scarlet Knights made only two field goals on their final 10 possessions of the game.

Hayes has struggled at times shooting from the foul line this season, entering the game with a 60.8 free-throw shooting percentage. Hayes finished 10-of-10 from the line and the Badgers shot 21 of 27 in the win.

Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders did not get the start at Wisconsin since he missed practice due to Christmas travel, according to Pikiell.

Sanders, who averaged 10.7 points and 3.8 assists entering Tuesday’s game, scored four points on 1-of-11 shooting in 23 minutes against the Badgers.

Sanders departed the game with less than six minutes to go with an apparent right leg injury. Pikiell did not have an update on Sanders’ injury.

BADGER BITS: Entering the game against Rutgers, Wisconsin freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice was the Big Ten Conference leader in 3-point shooting. Trice, a reserve, is shooting 58.1 percent (18 of 31) from beyond the arc this season. ... The Badgers own a 5-1 record in the series against the Scarlet Knights. The teams play again on Jan. 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York. ...Wisconsin earned its 15th consecutive home victory.