MADISON, WI – 2/5/2022
By: Mitchell Speltz
If you were looking for a low-scoring, offensively challenged basketball game, the Kohl Center was the place for you on Saturday night. The Wisconsin Badgers (18-4, 9-3) overcame another tough shooting performance to avoid an upset from Penn State (9-10, 4-7), 51-49. “Good teams find a way to win these games,” was the message Greg Gard had for his team following another gritty performance as Wisconsin’s defense came through for them when they needed it. Grit has been a key trait for this Wisconsin team this season and it’s been required in just about all their wins in conference play – Especially on Saturday as Johnny Davis was held to a season-low 4 points. With the win, the Badgers remain one game behind Illinois for the conference lead and now look forward to a much-anticipated rematch with Michigan State Tuesday night in East Lansing.
- It’s now back-to-back games where the Badgers have struggled to shoot the ball as they finished the game against Penn State 37% after an abysmal 25% in the first half, which produced just 18 points. What is attributed to the poor shooting? I believe it’s two things – 1) The film is out on Wisconsin. This is the point of the season where teams really begin to figure out how to guard their opponents and they must make adjustments. This isn’t just a Wisconsin thing, it’s the same for everyone else in the Big Ten and the best teams are the ones who fight through the adversity and find other ways to win. 2) The Badgers are playing with some tired legs as well. Wisconsin just finished their second stretch of 3 games in 6 days after the loss to Illinois on Wednesday. After that grueling game against the Illini, they had two days to prepare for a pesky Penn State team. And this stretch will continue as the Badgers get just two days to prepare for round two against Michigan State.
- With those shooting struggles, one way to overcome them is creating easier shots in transition. It has been widely publicized that Wisconsin is playing more up-tempo than usual and this is the fastest-paced they’ve been in over 20 years – Is this the answer to getting the offense back on track? The Badgers scored just 2 fast break points against Penn State and didn’t have much of a transition game in Illinois either. In my opinion, I think Wisconsin is better off slowing things down and getting back to executing in the half-court rather than putting an emphasis on pushing the ball, at least for their next game against Michigan State. A couple of Badger players after the game admitted tired legs were affecting them a bit and the Spartans love to play up-tempo and I think if Wisconsin were to play their game on Tuesday, it could lead to another inefficient offensive performance. I’m not saying abandon transition opportunities, but I think Wisconsin’s best bet to return to form offensively is to control the tempo and have teams play their style of basketball.
- Quietly, Steven Crowl continues to take significant strides. The opinions of him probably weren’t all that favorable following the game versus Illinois on Wednesday when Kofi Cockburn scored 37 against him. That’s one game and Cockburn is a rare breed that only a select few teams can match up with without doubling. Crowl led the team in scoring with 13 points and dished out a career-high 5 assists on Saturday. His three-point shooting has really come along as he has made at least one in six of his past eight games – This is an integral part of Wisconsin’s offense as it greatly affects the way they can space the floor and open up driving lanes. He’s starting to dominate the minutes at the five-position and he’s done an excellent job doing so since the new year began.
AT THE PODIUM:
- “It was a gritty game. Our shots weren’t falling, I thought we were getting good looks but our defense really kept us in it. We’ve talked a lot lately about being better defensively and it helped us tonight” – Tyler Wahl on the win
- “We just had to get our focus back. We had to settle back on defense and execute on offense. That’s what we do” – Chucky Hepburn on rallying after falling behind in the 2nd half
- “I said you guys have carried us a lot of nights. Tonight, it was their turn to carry you” – Greg Gard on his message to Johnny Davis and Brad Davison at halftime
- “Our goal when we face a scorer like that is to make him take more shots than points. He’s an attacker and we stressed not to foul him. Seth Lundy is a great defender and he’s done this all season for us against the best in the league” – Penn State Head Coach Micah Shrewsburry on limiting Johnny Davis