WASHINGTON – Maybe, just maybe, Wisconsin’s late-season swoon is over.
“We’re starting to do this weird thing where we play well offensively and defensively,” senior forward Nigel Hayes said, shaking his head. “We haven’t really done that often, so it’s kind of new to us. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Winning a second consecutive game after dropping five of six down the stretch, No. 24 Wisconsin slowed Indiana’s high-powered offense, while Bronson Koenig’s 16 points led five Badgers in double figures during their 70-60 victory in the Big Ten quarterfinals Friday night.
Wisconsin’s semifinal opponent is Northwestern, which beat No. 25 Maryland 72-64.
“I mean, you’ve seen it before. You always see it. A team that hasn’t been doing so well – or maybe they’ve done well and had a slump, like we have: If you can turn things around and get trending in the right direction in March, when it’s winning time,” said Hayes, who had 10 points and nine rebounds, “that’s really all that matters.”
Ethan Happ produced 14 points and 12 rebounds for No. 2 seed Wisconsin, which beat 10th-seeded Indiana (18-15) for the third time this season.
The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in scoring (80.4 points) and field-goal percentage (48.4), and were coming off two outings of at least 95 points each in conference play for the first time in 19 years.
But after making 60.3 percent of its shots in a 95-73 win against Iowa on Thursday, Indiana shot 41.1 percent against Wisconsin.
“We did a bad job of speeding them up on defense, trying to do things to make them play faster than they wanted to,” Indiana guard Robert Johnson said. “They played their pace more than we played ours.”
James Blackmon Jr. led Indiana with 17 points, but De’Ron Davis had two points on 1-of-6 shooting after going 7-for-7 for 15 points Thursday.
Indiana made its initial pair of attempts from beyond the arc Friday – by Blackmon, then Johnson – but started 0 for 6 from everywhere else. The Hoosiers twice gave up 9-0 runs to the Badgers.
Hayes, actually, wasn’t all that impressed by his team’s defense.
He pointed out that Indiana outscored Wisconsin in the paint (26-22) and on second-chance points (14-11) and outrebounded the Badgers, too.
“We made some bad switches. We didn’t make some switches that we should have made. … And they still had (only) 60 points. That’s the good and the bad,” Hayes said. “For us, it wasn’t good enough. Kind of like the second-grader’s report card: You get the ‘U’ for ‘Unsatisfactory.“’
Still, his team believes it’s heading in the right direction, playing more like the group that began the season 21-3.
“If we can continue to … have a lot of guys contribute, it helps us as we go forward,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “I think we’re maturing. Teams mature in different areas at different times of the year. They’re playing very unselfish, which is good to see.”
Indiana: Could be headed to the NIT.
Wisconsin: If it keeps winning this week, can hope to stay close to home in Milwaukee for the start of what will be a 19th consecutive trip to the NCAAs.
HE SAID IT
Indiana coach Tom Crean on Koenig, a senior guard: “He doesn’t play a game that promotes himself. He plays a game that wins. He can shoot it. He’s quick. He can get to the rim, pass the ball. I’ve been a big fan for a long time.”
Wisconsin: Plays No. 6 seed Northwestern on Saturday. The Badgers lost to the Wildcats 66-59 on Feb. 12.
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