Every week, Herald Sports will offer a report card on the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s most recent two games.
No. 20 Wisconsin (18-5, 7-3) eked out a 52-46 win at Penn State (10-13, 2-8) Tuesday – its sixth consecutive win in the Big Ten. The win moved the Badgers into sole possession of second place, just a half game behind Ohio State – set to play Wisconsin at the Kohl Center Saturday.
The win also gave the Badgers a 4-1 road record.
Before its victory over Penn State, Wisconsin last played Jan. 26 against then-No. 16 Indiana at home and took that one by a score of 57-50.
Offense – 3 out of 5
Collectively, Wisconsin’s shooting might have been the lowlight between its last two games. While Wisconsin shot decently enough against Indiana (39.6 percent), it performed atrociously in the first half against Penn State (26.9) before turning things around in the second (45.5).
Both Penn State (36) and Indiana (45.7) shot better and out-rebounded Wisconsin, but UW was able to claim wins by hitting more three-pointers and free throws, as well as committing less turnovers in both games.
Not that the three-point percentage is a redeeming quality, though, as Wisconsin hit just nine of 36. Free throws, on the other hand, were quality, with the Badgers hitting 28 of 38 (73.7 percent).
Defense – 4 out of 5
While the point totals of Wisconsin may look impressive – holding IU, the conference’s highest scoring team, nearly 30 points below its average and bottling up PSU with 46 points – it’s still the slower pace of the offense that takes away some credit from the “D.”
The Nittany Lions and Hoosiers both, for the most part, ran efficient offenses against the Badgers, too; regardless of the scoreboard totals. As previously stated, Indiana converted 45.7 percent of its shots while Penn State hit 45.8 in the first half before collapsing in the second and hitting a mere 26.9.
The Badgers looked sharp on the ball against Indiana but played sloppy in the first half against Penn State, at times applying too much pressure on rising star guard Tim Frazier, which opened up good looks for teammates.
Nevertheless, Wisconsin quelled two of the Big Ten’s top 10 offensive individuals over the two-game stretch. Although Frazier scored 21 points for Penn State, Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser made him work hard to do so, holding the PSU guard to 8-of-22 shooting.
The Badgers were also able to get Cody Zeller into foul trouble early and hold him to just seven points on the night.
Bench – 3.5 out of 5
Reserves didn’t see too much playing time over the two games but filled in admirably when called upon.
Guard Ben Brust, in 22 minutes on the court, led the Badgers in scoring against the Hoosiers with 13 points and kept the team alive with two clutch three-pointers. They came midway through the second half when the two sides were trading the lead after nearly every possession.
Brust was then limited against Penn State after it was announced he would be a gametime decision to play after waking up that morning with an illness. He went 0-for-4 with a turnover in 11 minutes.
Elsewhere, though, forwards Rob Wilson and Frank Kaminsky, on eight and seven minutes of play, both hit three-pointers against the Nittany Lions.
During a 58-second span in the second half, Kaminsky hit his three-pointer, blocked a shot, grabbed a rebound and then had the assist on Wilson’s trey.
Wilson also added a block against PSU.
Players of the week – Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren
Neither player necessarily had a perfect game against either the Hoosiers or Nittany Lions, but eliminate the performance of one or the other and Wisconsin’s winning streak might have ended last Thursday.
Against Indiana, Berggren played a large role in keeping Zeller off the scoreboard. Berggren blocked three of Zeller’s shots and had a total of five on the night: a career-best.
He followed that up with eight points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and one steal against Penn State. Six of his points came in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second half and his all-around energy in that final period looked contagious for a team that looked off in the first.
For Evans, despite having a difficult time on offense against the Hoosiers (going 2-for-8 from the field), he pulled through for his team in crunch time, going 6-for-6 from the line in the game’s final four-and-a-half minutes.
All in all, Evans hit all eight of his free throw attempts that night and finished with 12 points, nine rebounds (four offensive), two assists and a block.
He complemented that with 11 points and six rebounds against the Nittany Lions and was the most efficient shooter of the night, scoring 5 of 12 from the field.