David Stluka / UW Athletics
It looks like Ethan Happ knows the pressure’s on.
Nine games into the Big Ten Conference schedule, you would think the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team wouldn’t need to take teams like Minnesota and Rutgers to overtime in order to pull out victories.
Yet UW missed 22 three-pointers on Jan. 28 at Rutgers before eking out a 61-54 victory. The OT win at Minnesota was much closer, with a three-pointer from Bronson Koenig with 44 seconds left proving to be the difference.
True, UW has won six straight since losing at Purdue by 11 on Jan. 8. — including blowouts at the Kohl Center against Ohio State and Penn State. But mid-February home games against Maryland and Northwestern loom large on the schedule. Even upcoming matchups against one-time powerhouses that are merely average this season, such as Michigan and Michigan State, likely won’t be anything close to gimme games.
If the No. 10 Badgers (8-1 in the Big Ten, 19-3 overall) are going to march strongly into March, here are three things that have to happen:
• Ethan Happ needs a career game every game. The redshirt sophomore forward scored 28 points, plus had 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals, against the Gophers on Jan. 21. A week later, against Rutgers, he scored a new career-high 32 — including 23 of UW’s first 38 points. Without him in that game, especially early on, the Badgers easily could have embarrassed themselves even more against a team that at the time only claimed one Big Ten win.
• The Rutgers OT win must be the low point of the season. UW shot 33 percent from the floor against the Scarlet Knights and an almost inconceivable 12 percent from three-point range. When the Badgers clank that hard, they usually lose big. Fortunately, this time it happened against Rutgers.
• Don’t panic. College basketball’s lengthy season allows for some ups and downs. Remember last season, when Wisconsin lost four of its first five games in the Greg Gard era but rebounded to win 11 of their final 13 regular-season games, secure a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament and advance to the Sweet 16?
While the Badgers can’t afford to look past any team, there’s a reason they’ve remained consistently in the middle of the AP Top 25 rankings all season. “Our guys found a way,” Gard said after the Rutgers game. “That’s what good teams do.”