No. 13 Wisconsin makes it 9 straight at Indiana
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As the voice of experience, a senior who has been to two NCAA Final Fours, Bronson Koenig kept repeating the same message Tuesday in 13th-ranked Wisconsin’s challenging visit to No. 25 Indiana.
“I just told everybody to stay calm during the storm, when we knew the Indiana crowd would be hyped,” Koenig said.
The Badgers kept their cool, tightening the screws on the Hoosiers’ high-powered offense and scoring in the most intense possessions to put together a late 7-0 run for a 75-68 Big Ten victory at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Wisconsin (13-2, 2-0) is looking for its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Koenig as well as senior forwards Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown have been there each of the past three years, so their words of advice are considered gospel.
“We’ve played in some pretty crazy places and in some pretty intense games,” Koenig said, “so I know with a group full of veterans, I knew we wouldn’t rattle and keep our composure, and that’s what we did.”
Sophomore forward Ethan Happ, who finished with a game-high 19 points, started the pivotal 7-0 spurt in a stretch of 2:19 with a layup. Brown sank a 3-pointer, then Koenig made two foul shots for a 73-63 lead with 28 seconds left. Koenig hit all five of his 3-point shots and finished with 17 points.
It was Wisconsin’s traditional blueprint for success — contest shots on defense and be deliberate on offense in taking whatever time is needed to get open looks.
“I just don’t know if they like playing at our pace,” said Badgers senior guard Zak Showalter, who scored 14 points. “They’re a team that obviously wants to get up and down the court and get a lot of good shots in transition. They got a couple too many tonight, but I think we really took them out of what they wanted to do.”
Indiana (10-5, 0-2) has now lost three in a row, including two conference games at home. The defending Big Ten regular-reason champions had climbed to No. 3 in the early Associated Press rankings and knocked off two No. 3s in Kansas and North Carolina.
That the Hoosiers have suddenly struggled is quite a surprise.
“Among other things, talking to the team, I need to remind them that we have a lot of season to play,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “It’s the first week of January.”
The common denominator in Indiana losses has been defensive lapses, although the offense hasn’t been clicking, either. The Hoosiers were averaging 88.8 points before the losing streak, in which they’ve averaged just 71 points.
But Indiana actually outshot Wisconsin. The Hoosiers were 26 of 49 (.531) and the Badgers were 28-of-56 (.500) from the field. Wisconsin hit 10-of-20 3-pointers compared with Indiana’s 5 of 15. And the visitors, again, were stronger on defense, especially at the end.
“I’m not frustrated at all,” said Indiana sophomore forward Juwan Morgan, who like junior guard Robert Johnson and freshman forward De’Ron Davis scored a team-high 12. “I’m confident in everybody in the team, on the staff, everywhere around the program. I’m confident in all of us.”
Crean reiterated his previous message that Indiana can straighten itself out by not over-helping nor challenging shots too late on the defensive end.
“The defense is what’s got to pick up,” he said.
Those issues were not just evident at the end, they were obvious at the outset as Wisconsin scored the initial 13 points. Indiana took the rest of the first half catching up as the Badgers led 38-37 at intermission.
“We didn’t start for some reason,” Crean told ESPN at halftime.
The Badgers did, and then like a seasoned team prepared for the pressure, they finished strong, too.
“We weren’t terrific defensively,” said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, who is 28-0 when leading with five minutes remaining. “We were good enough in the last three or four minutes, and then obviously hit some big shots.”
BADGER BITS: Wisconsin is the only school to defeat Indiana five consecutive times on the Hoosiers’ home floor (2008-13). Although Indiana leads the all-time series 95-70, the Badgers have won 16 of 18 at Indiana. ... G Robert Johnson’s shooting slump lasted one more half. The team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game, he missed his first five shots, including three 3-pointers after finishing just 1 of 13 in a Saturday loss to No. 6 Louisville. ... F Nigel Hayes averaged 16.5 points in the Badgers’ previous eight wins. He’s the country’s only active player with at least 1,500 points, 600 rebounds and 200 assists in his career. ... Indiana and Wisconsinare tied for first in the nation at rebounding margin at plus-13.8. ... Hoosiers G James Blackmon played his first game against the Badgers after missing the previous three due to injuries. ... Next up, the Badgers will continue their Hoosier State tour with a Sunday game at No. 20 Purdue. Indiana hosts Illinois on Saturday.