Wisconsin will face Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge

MADISON — For a third time in six years Wisconsin will face Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The conferences made that announcement Thursday morning, setting the stage for the 19th year of the event that pits two of the best basketball conferences in the country against one another every November.

The Badgers and Cavaliers met in the 2012 and 2013 Challenge, with each team winning on the other’s home court.

This game will take place in Charlottesville and will feature the first meeting between Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and Virginia coach Tony Bennett. The two served on the same staff in Madison in 2002 and 2003 as assistants under former coach Bo Ryan before Bennett, a Wisconsin native, left to take an assistant job at Washington State.

When Ryan announced the 2015-’16 season would be his last, many pointed to Bennett, who has been at Virginia since 2009 and has won two ACC titles, as a possible successor. That didn’t materialize as Gard would eventually get the job after serving in an interim basis following Ryan’s abrupt departure in December of 2015.

Wisconsin is 9-9 all-time in the Challenge, including winning three of their last four. Virginia, meanwhile, owns the third-best record among ACC teams at 11-6.

Wisconsin snaps a two-game losing streak with a 71-60 win over Maryland

MADISON — No. 11 Wisconsin turned a six-point halftime deficit into a much needed double-digit win on Sunday, snapping a two-game losing streak by beating No. 23 Maryland 71-60 at the Kohl Center.

“I thought guys, especially in the second half, answered the bell, so to speak,” coach Greg Gard said of his team’s effort.

After managing to hit just 28 percent of their shots in the first half, the Badgers saw Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ shoot a combined 9 of 15 after the break on their way to making 51.5 percent from the field in the second half. Add in the fact they turned the ball over just once in the final 20 minutes and limited Maryland to just eight made field goals, and it was clear why they were successful.

“That was more like (who) this team is,” Gard said.

Hayes, two days after saying he needed to be more assertive and step his game up, did just that, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds — his second double-double in Big Ten play. Nine of his points came at the free throw line, an indication of his aggressiveness.

“We’re not the best outside shooting team, currently,” said Hayes, who was 0 of 2 from 3-point range on a team that made just 2 of their 12 shots from deep. “I tried to do my best to get to the rim, try to draw some fouls.”

Happ scored 20 points and added seven rebounds despite dealing with foul trouble in the second half.

But the biggest lift may have come in the form of Bronson Koenig. Wisconsin prepared like they wouldn’t have the senior guard for a second straight game due to a calf injury, but he ended up coming off the bench and played 31 minutes.

His first make, a 3-pointer, tied the game at 36 with 16:29 left. The next time down the court he hit a jumper to give the Badgers a 38-36 lead. He made two more shots later in the game and finished with nine points, all in the second half.

“It was great for him to get back in the flow of things,” senior Zak Showalter said of Koenig. “He’s had five days off so he was a little bit slow but it was good to see him come in and contribute.”

Koenig wasn’t the only one off the bench to help. Redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl, who didn’t play a minute in the loss to Michigan on Thursday, gave the Badgers seven points and seven rebounds, including five on the offensive end, which led to six second-chance points for Wisconsin.

Maryland was paced by Melo Trimble’s 27 points, but the junior guard didn’t play in the final 4:32, with coach Mark Turgeon saying he was tired, pointing to five missed free throws during the game.

The win leaves Wisconsin (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) in a tie with Purdue atop the Big Ten with four games to play.

The Badgers next to contests are on the road, with a trip to Ohio State on Thursday and a visit to Michigan State on Sunday.

Notes:

— Former Wisconsin running back James White was honored during the game for his performance in Super Bowl LI. He caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes and scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime to help the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons and win their second title in three years.

— Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was in attendance, sitting behind the Wisconsin bench. He was recognized during the game as well as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

— Former Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan, currently playing with the Chicago Bulls’ D-League team, was also at the game.

Gard: ‘I don’t know when (or) if’ Bronson Koenig will return

Wisconsin’s offense could certainly use a boost from a healthy Bronson Koenig, but it’s unclear whether the Badgers will get that when they host Maryland on Sunday.

The senior guard was held out of Thursday’s 64-58 loss at Michigan due to a calf injury suffered against Penn State on Jan. 24.

“I don’t know,” coach Greg Gard said when asked if Koenig would be available for the game against the Terrapins. “It’ll be day-to-day. It has been — and will be — in the medical staff’s hands. They’ll tell me what his status is each day.

“I don’t know when (or) if (he’ll return). I don’t know any more than I did before the game that he wasn’t going to play (Thursday night).”

In the five games after the injury, Koenig hit just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and was shooting under 30 percent overall — both figures a steep decline from his career numbers. And it just so happens the injury coincides with the Badgers dip in production on the offensive end.

After shooting under 40 percent in two of their first 20 games of the season with a healthy Koenig in the lineup, the Badgers have been under that figure in four straight games — the longest such streak for the program since the start of the 2003-2004 season. And after averaging more than 76 points per game to start the season, that number is down to 60.8 over the last six.

Koenig’s replacement on Thursday, true freshman D’Mitrik Trice, was up and down, handing out four assists with just two turnovers, but also shooting a dismal 2 of 15 from the field.

“He got himself in some positions where he had to take tough shots,” Gard said. “I’ll break it down shot-by-shot of what was good and what was not. I thought he got himself in trouble at times, too. But he also found himself open a few times, too, and you got to knock down shots when you have the opportunity.”

D’Mitrik Trice to get his first career start in place of an injured Bronson Koenig

Wisconsin will be without their starting point guard when they take on Michigan Thursday night.

The team announced that senior point guard Bronson Koenig will miss the game as he deals with a calf strain that has hampered him since first injuring it against Penn State on Jan. 24.

“The medical staff made a decision (on Wednesday),” coach Greg Gard told UWBadgers.com “We knew it was unlikely he was going to play and then (we) made a final determination (Thursday) morning.”

In Koenig’s place will be true freshman D’Mitrik Trice, who is averaging 5.5 points and 1.6 assists per game.

“He’s ready for this moment,” Gard said. “I’ve said all along he’s wiser and older than his freshman year says in the program. It’s a great opportunity for him.”

Trice said Tuesday he was preparing like he was going to start, and he spent the entire week as the No. 1 point guard with Koenig sitting out.

“(I) just have to go out and do what I need to do to help my team win,” Trice said of his role. “Whether that’s pass the ball, come off screens and find open guys or knock down the 15-footer, hit an open 3 here and there and just direct the offense.”

Koenig had seen his performance drop off significantly since the injury, making just 7 of 31 shots from beyond the arc and shooting under 30 percent from the field overall.

“We know it’s huge loss,” senior Nigel Hayes said this week. “As I’ve always answered when another team loses a key player, other players will step up. That’s just what happens.

“We know what Bronson does. Bronson takes his shots. All that means is there are more shots for someone else, another opportunity for someone to step up.

“Trice has been playing well. Brevin (Pritzl) has been doing well. Gives more opportunities for Jordan (Hill) and those guys to step up and try and make something happen.”

Entering the day, No. 11 Wisconsin (21-4, 10-2) owns a 1/2 game lead in the Big Ten on Purdue and Maryland.

Koenig misses Tuesday practice with leg injury, expected to play vs Michigan

MADISON, Wis. — Following Sunday’s 66-59 loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin basketball coach Greg Gard noted that the left calf injury to senior guard Bronson Koenig was affecting his performance. That’s why he was given the night off from Tuesday’s practice.

This season, Koenig is averaging career highs in field goal percentage (.418) and points (13.4), not including his freshman year. But after suffering the leg injury Jan. 24 against Penn State, Koenig is just 14-of-55 (.254) from the field and averaging 8.8 points per game.

University of Wisconsin officials say the injury won’t keep him from playing in Thursday night’s contest at Michigan, however. But freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice is ready to step up if necessary.

“I’m preparing for that, definitely,” Trice said following Tuesday’s practice. “You never know with Bronson [Koenig] and whatever’s going on with him. I know I’m praying for him and things like that, but I’m definitely preparing with that mindset.”

Trice has been a source of confidence for coach Greg Gard this season, averaging 17.1 minutes per game, hitting 42.6 percent of his field goal attempts.

Koenig has not been available to speak with reporters this week to discuss the injury.

Badgers left off initial NCAA Tournament Top 16

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin Badgers basketball team will have some work to do from now until the official unveiling of the NCAA tournament field after failing to make the selection committee’s Top 16 list announced Saturday morning.

Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis unveiled the list, noting the first four teams left out were Creighton, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Cincinnati.

Reigning national champions Villanova take the top overall spot with a record of 23-2.

Top 16 teams by rank
1. Villanova
2. Kansas
3. Baylor
4. Gonzaga
5. North Carolina
6. Florida State
7. Louisville
8. Oregon
9. Arizona
10. Virginia
11. Florida
12. Kentucky
13. Butler
14. West Virginia
15. UCLA
16. Duke

First four out
1. Creighton
2. Purdue
3. Wisconsin
4. Cincinnati

Top 16 teams by region
East
1. Villanova (1)
2. Louisville (7)
3. Kentucky (12)
4. UCLA (15)

Midwest
1. Kansas (2)
2. Florida State (6)
3. Arizona (9)
4. Duke (16)

West
1. Baylor (3)
2. North Carolina (5)
3. Florida (11)
4. Butler (13)

South
1. Gonzaga (4)
2. Oregon (8)
3. Virginia (10)
4. West Virginia (14)

Wisconsin overcomes poor shooting to beat Rutgers in overtime

NEW YORK — Ethan Happ’s career-high 32 points helped lead an inconsistent No. 15 Wisconsin past Rutgers at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon 61-54 in overtime.

Wisconsin overcame a nine-point deficit late in regulation thanks to poor free throw shooting down the stretch for Rutgers, sending the contest to overtime tied at 45. The Badgers shot just 27.8 percent (15-of-54) from the field in regulation and an uncharacteristic 12 percent (3-of-25) from three-point range.

Despite those shortcomings, the Badgers were able to make the necessary adjustments to win their fifth game in a row and improve to 7-1 in conference play. Those adjustments included forcing the Scarlet Knights to try and beat the Badgers at the free throw line, where they were just 1-for-5 down the stretch of regulation. In overtime, Rutgers’ struggles came from the field, where they went on a 4:14 drought before Nigel Johnson gave his team anything to feel confident about.

Wisconsin finishes the two-game road trip Tuesday night when they visit Illinois at 8 p.m. CT.

Badgers survive Gophers in overtime 78-76

MINNEAPOLIS — 40 minutes of play from the Williams Arena couldn’t decide a winner, but a late Ethan Happ free throw in overtime gave Wisconsin a 78-76 win over Minnesota.

Happ finished with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting in a physical matchup in the post. The Badgers held a 44-24 advantage in points in the paint, while also improving its free throw shooting to the tune of 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) at the charity stripe. Happ also led Wisconsin with 12 rebounds and six assists.

The Gophers’ hot three-point shooting in the first half (68 percent) cooled off considerably after the first 20 minutes, ending the night 9-of-17 (53 percent). Amir Coffey was the high-point man for Minnesota with 19.

Senior forward Vitto Brown was questionable for the Badgers entering the Williams Arena due to a right knee injury. He appeared healthy in shootaround, playing 17 minutes and logging two points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field.  His biggest contributions were on the boards, grabbing seven rebounds.

Wisconsin falls five spots in the latest AP Top 25

MADISON — A split of two road games against ranked opponents led to the Wisconsin basketball team sliding five spots in the latest Associated Press Top 25.

The Badgers, who beat No. 25 Indiana on Tuesday and lost to No. 20 Purdue on Sunday, fell to No. 18 in the poll released Monday. It’s their lowest ranking of the season.

Wisconsin is one of three Big Ten teams in the poll, with the Boilermakers jumping three spots to No. 17 and Minnesota entering the rankings for the first time this season at No. 24.

Coach Greg Gard and the Badgers (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) will host Ohio State (10-6, 0-3) on Thursday at the Kohl Center.

You can find the full rankings here.

Wisconsin takes care of Rutgers 72-52 in its Big Ten opener

MADISON — Wisconsin got 20 points from senior Nigel Hayes to take care of Rutgers 72-52 in the Big Ten opener for both teams Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.

Player of the game: Zak Showalter

The senior guard brought it on both ends of the court on Tuesday, scoring 18 points and also helping to hold Rutgers to a season-low 30.0 percent shooting from the field. His point total was his best of the season, and his defensive energy — drawing a charge and racking up four steals — helped Wisconsin through a sloppy game from both sides early.

“I think it just shows how good we are as a whole,” Hayes said of Showalter’s performance. “Not just looking at it, ‘Oh, they have Nigel or they have Ethan or they have Bronson.’”

The good: Nigel Hayes

Hayes had his way much of the night, getting inside the Rutgers defense and making them pay at the free throw line. The senior was 5 of 9 from the field, but got half his points from the stripe, going 10 of 10, and hitting the 20-point mark for a third time in his last six games.

“In order to get to the free throw line 10 times, you have to absorb a lot of contact and attack the rim,” coach Greg Gard said. “Which is something I’ve seen the last four week or six weeks (from him) and how much more efficient offensively his game has become. A lot of that has been the proximity he’s played from the rim.”

The not so good:
Defensive rebounding

When a team misses as many shots — 43 — as Rutgers did, there are bound to be more opportunities for second-chance points. But Wisconsin played a big factor in allowing the Scarlet Knights to grab so many offensive rebounds. In total, they had 18, which were the most Wisconsin had given up in a game this season.

Gard said afterwards that they were expecting Rutgers to crash the glass, with it being something they’ve shown much of the year.

“There were a lot of balls bouncing because of the type of shots they take,” Gard said of Rutgers. “They’re coming off at all angles and all speeds off the rim. That’s part of their DNA. They shoot it and go get it. That’s how they’ve tried to build themselves.”

Stats of the game: 21 of 28

That was Wisconsin’s numbers from the free throw line on Tuesday. It’s the second-most attempts they’ve had this year, and coming into the game the Badgers were shooting just 68.1 percent as a team. And while hitting at a 75 percent clip, like they did against Rutgers, isn’t the high-water mark, it’s a great step towards getting there.

Quote of the game:

“Frickin excited. Now when I go home and see my mom, she’ll greet me with open arms and love instead of scorn and disgust because I made my free throws. That’s wonderful.”

Hayes’ joking response to him making all 10 of his free throws. Coming into the game, he was shooting 60.8 percent from the line.

Video of the game:

Odds and ends:

— Former Badgers Trevon Hughes and Greg Stiemsma were among several alumni at the game.

— Wisconsin freshman D’Mitrik Trice made his Big Ten debut, scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds.

— Rutgers fourth-leading scorer Corey Sanders left the game late in the second half with an apparent ankle injury. He was 1 of 11 from the field before the injury.

— With the students on winter break, there were quite a few empty seats in the student section, but the Kohl Center was surprisingly full for an early tip-off against a Rutgers team expected to finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten.

—  Hayes and junior Jordan Hill continue to stand a step back from the rest of the team during the national anthem as their form of protest towards the treatment of African Americans in the United States.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (12-2, 1-0) is off until Jan. 3, when they travel to take on No. 16 Indiana in Bloomington.