A meeting with the now 6-14 Northwestern Wildcats was exactly what the doctor ordered for the struggling Wisconsin basketball team. Having lost their previous two against #3 Michigan and #11 Iowa, as well as going just .500 in their previous ten games, facing off against a Northwestern team that had dropped their past 12 conference games was heaven-sent.
Greg Gard’s men closed out the first half on a dominant 14-4 run and added a 13-1 blitz in the second to make sure the Wildcats never got close. For fans, the 68-51 win felt therapeutic, a complete game where the Badgers looked sharp from the jump. Here’s the breakdown:
D’Mitrik Trice – A-
13 PTS, 5 AST, 5/6 FGM/A
What made Trice so impressive in this one was his simple mastery of Gard’s offensive principle. On a night where four other Badgers scored in double figures, Trice didn’t have to bear the load of being the primary creator and scorer.
Instead, Trice took what the defense gave him. He got the Badgers going with a wing three deep in the shot clock and consistently handled Northwestern’s double-teams off of the pick and roll. Look how he calmly slips Micah Potter a pass once Pete Nance doubles Trice:
His five assists paced the Badgers and he notched 13 points on a brilliantly efficient six shots. Understandably, playing against Northwestern couldn’t have hurt his stat line, but more performances like this from Trice could have the Badgers look as dangerous as they did to close 2020.
Brad Davison – B
12 PTS, 6 REB, 3 STL
It seems like Davison is trying to reinvent himself. While still posting up on occasion, Davison has elected to take on a proto-Brevin Pritzl role, jacking up threes whenever he sees a glimmer of daylight.
While his inefficient shooting this season has been incredibly irksome, it’s impossible not to fall in love with his effort on defense. The first half was classic Brad. Diving on the floor for loose balls, using his stocky frame to keep NW wings in front of him, and taking his classically scrappy charges.
He didn’t play pretty basketball, but he played winning basketball and for a team trying to get back some respect, that’s all you can ask.
Tyler Wahl – A
10 PTS, ORTG 118
In two games against the Wildcats this season, Wahl is average 12.0 PPG and 5 RBG on 62% eFG%. This is the kind of Wahl that Badger fans thought they were getting throughout his sophomore campaign.
Against NW, Wahl balled out on the defensive end. He played perfect defense from the start and held Chase Audige to just five points on 2/7 shooting. Plus he was responsible for igniting maybe the Badgers’ coolest sequence of the season.
He initially doubles, then rushes to close out and prevents any possibility of an open three. He then wraps it all off using his length to poke the ball free, dive on it, and hit up Jonathan Davis for the smooth finger roll. Perfect defense to perfect offense.
Aleem Ford – C+
4 AST, 5 REB
Ford was soft attacking the paint and couldn’t buy a bucket from the outside. His name won’t show up on the scoring sheet but Gard may have discovered a secret weapon with Ford in the post.
While Ford struggled shooting, his passing out of the post couldn’t have been more exciting. He finished second on the Badgers with four assists, including a no-look beauty to Davis on the cut (Davis hitting sick layups is a theme in this one).
That being said, against a superior opponent the Wisconsin basketball team can’t expect Ford to go scoreless and win by double digits. Similarly concerning was his inability to finish with contact, in fact, he seemed to be avoiding it. For now, Wisconsin basketball fans just need to be happy with the win.
Reuvers – C
2 PTS, 1 OREB
Reuvers continued to struggle with his touch around the rim and never found the range from three-point land against the Cats. He finished with just two points, but more significant was his rebounding, or lack thereof. Struggling on the glass once again, Reuvers secured just one offensive rebound.
But the starting big man played his usually stout defense. He seems to always be perfectly equidistant between the ball, man, and rim while using his length to make up whatever he’s missing in speed.
Reuvers was awfully milk toast and finished with fewer minutes played than his replacement off the bench in Micah Potter, given Potter’s performance it’ll be interesting to see what decisions Gard makes in the coming weeks.
Potter – A+
19 PTS, 8 REB, 7/8 FGM/A, 3 3FGM, 1 BLK, 2 STL
Speaking of which, if Potter continues to play the way he has against Iowa and Northwestern, it’ll be impossible not to give him 30 minutes a night. 42 points and 19 rebounds with three threes a game in his past two and it’s how he’s done it that’s been so impressive.
Instead of just banging in the post from a poor position, Potter is using his quickness to slip screens and find open seams in the defense, whether that be popping out for open threes or slicing to the rim and activating his feathery touch.
Even more impressive has been his progression on the defensive end. There’s not much to be done with Iowa’s Luka Garza on the other end, but in the case of Northwestern, Ryan Young was not much of a challenge. Potter remained active and engaged, yelling out switches and actions while patrolling the paint. A really exciting development, regardless if he’s coming off the bench or starting.
Jonathan Davis – A
12 PTS, 3 STL, 6/7 FTM/A
A reader of the blog labeled me as a “JD Fanboy” and I think said user is right. Davis’s game is so fluid and natural that it’s difficult not to swoon. He’ll give you the aforementioned jelly finger rolls but he’s also strong enough–as a freshman!–to finish through contact. Just look at how he powers through the hack by Anthony Gaines:
He had Audige on skates, too. Davis’ growth has been one of the constant bright spots of the season. From strictly cutting, to developing a reliable two-dribble pullup and now to flat out taking elite athletes like Audige one-on-one.
For the true basketball junkies, that he led the game with seven free throw attempts cannot be understated. Having someone that can force their way to the line when the going gets rough for the Wisconsin basketball team–as it often has this season–will take the pressure off of guys like Trice to constantly create.
Carter Gilmore – 1 Gold Star
2 3FGA, 1 REB
They say that if you see Carter Gilmore get first-half minutes it means six more weeks of Big Ten play. Enough time for the Badgers to fight for first place in the conference.
With Trevor Anderson out, Gard decided to experiment with Gilmore as a rotation guard. In five minutes, Gilmore got up two threes (respect) and nabbed a board. He played shockingly strong defense but didn’t play enough to merit a definitive letter grade. Pretty cool seeing him out there, though.