Wisconsin will look to shake off the rust when the 15th-ranked Badgers host Western Michigan on Friday night in Madison, Wisc., in their final nonconference tuneup before Big Ten Conference play kicks into high gear.
Wisconsin (9-2) has been idle since a 78-56 home victory over Lehigh on Dec. 15 after their scheduled home game against Grambling State last Friday was canceled due to weather issues.
Western Michigan (4-8) is coming off a 61-41 home victory over Siena Heights on Dec. 21.
Wisconsin has won four straight. Against Lehigh, the Badgers erased a 43-38 deficit with runs of 11-0 and 12-0, shooting 65.5 percent in the second half — including 6 of 11 from 3-point range.
Before that, Wisconsin had seven consecutive games decided by five points or less, including both of the team’s losses — 69-68 in overtime to then-No. 3 Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 24 and 78-75 at home vs. Wake Forest five days later.
“We got back to doing the things that make us good,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said after the Lehigh game. “And it was small, simple things. It wasn’t erratic changes. It was just being more physical, more aggressive, specifically defensively, and I think that set our tone to make that 14 minutes pretty good.”
The defensive-minded Badgers allow an average of 60.8 points per game, 26th-best in the nation. They are 69-8 under Gard when holding opponents to 60 points or less, including 6-0 this season.
Wisconsin has held all 11 opponents this season under their scoring average.
Tyler Wahl leads Wisconsin’s balanced attack with averages of 14.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Chucky Hepburn adds 12 points and Steven Crowl 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Connor Essegian (10.6 points) is just the fifth Badger freshman over the past 20 years to average at least 10 points through his first 11 games.
Wisconsin lost some backcourt depth with the season-ending loss of senior reserve Jahcobi Neath, who has been slow to respond to offseason knee surgery. Neath averaged 9.5 minutes in the first three games but has not played since Nov. 15.
Western Michigan has been unable to rise to the occasion against top competition. The Broncos lost 61-60 at Minnesota in their season opener and since have lost to Valparaiso, Rice, Dayton and Iowa State.
Lamar Norman Jr. averages a team-best 18.3 points a game. Tray Maddox Jr. is the only other scorer in double figures at 10.5 points for the Broncos, who will begin Mid-American Conference play at Kent State on Tuesday.
Maddox is a transfer guard from Cal State Fullerton.
“I just love the environment and the atmosphere here,” Maddox said after arriving at Western Michigan.
Markeese Hastings averages a team-high 9.3 rebounds for the Broncos, who have been outrebounded only three times this season.
Opponents are averaging 15 points per game off Broncos turnovers.
Wisconsin has faced Western Michigan just once, winning 80-68 at the old UW Field House in 1954. The Badgers are 41-12 all-time against opponents currently in the Mid-American Conference.
–Field Level Media