Usually a trip to Maui means a vacation, but Monday’s start to the Maui Invitational was anything but a picnic at the beach for the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers against the Tennessee Volunteers. In the end the Badgers regrouped and won 74-62 to open Maui Invitational play.
Runs were the story of the game, including a 12-0 run to start the game and two big 12-2 runs by both teams that turned the tide of this game to the Vols and back to the Badgers in the second half.
The star trio of Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig came through in a massive way. They combined to score 54 of Wisconsin’s 74 points, with Koenig leading all scorers with 21 points, while Hayes added 17 and Happ had 16 in the win.
Hayes had a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with his 17 points, while also shooting a perfect 3 of 3 from beyond the arc.
Koenig’s 21-point day put him in the 1,000-point club for the Badgers. He hit 9 of 15 field goals and added a team-high four assists.
Wisconsin led by as many as 17 points in the first half thanks to that hot start, but it wouldn’t last. The Badgers went 4:53 without hitting a shot in the middle of the first half and suddenly a blowout was back to a ballgame.
The drought was stopped by a Vitto Brown jumper which re-ignited Wisconsin’s offense as it ran a 26-19 margin back out to 33-22 thanks to a fast-break dunk by Vitto Brown and a triple by Zak Showalter.
However, the Vols weren’t intimidated at all in the first half, with the Wisconsin lead sitting at just 40-32.
Tennessee’s hot hand continued to start the second half, as they used a 12-0 run to erase all the work Wisconsin did in the first half in the form of a 42-40 lead with 16:23 to play in the game. However, turnabout was fair play for UW.
That 12-2 run was the spark the Badgers needed to control the game down the stretch and by the final two minutes Tennessee was chasing Wisconsin in the hopes of a miracle.
It didn’t come, as the Badgers owned the boards (38-24) and allowed the Vols to get to the free throw line just six times in the game. UW countered with a 13 of 18 (72.2 percent) day from the charity stripe.
- Nigel Hayes apparently goes as his 3-point shot goes. On Monday, Hayes hit his first triple of the game and was far more attacking overall on offense than we’ve seen from him to start the season. It’s no coincidence that his best overall game came when he finally was hitting outside shots. That’s very good news if it can continue. However, it would be advantageous if his overall offensive game wasn’t so reliant on 3-point shooting.
- The Maui Invitational field is loaded with talent, and it was good to see the Badgers get tested and pass by an opponent when tested. That didn’t happen last week at Creighton, as the Bluejays knocked the Badgers down in the Gavitt Games. We’ll see if Wisconsin can win this tournament, but this gutsy performance is a good thing.
- ZONE!! If Bo Ryan was watching this game from his retirement chair, we’re guessing he was out of it after seeing the Badgers change to a 3-2 zone from much of the second half. Credit head coach Greg Gard for having the guts to implement it and then go to it in this game. Wisconsin simply needed something different on defense with the way Tennessee was shooting, and it worked as the Badgers quickly stopped the run of the Vols and went on a run of its own. Just don’t expect this to be the way UW starts out on defense, but more of a way to try and find a win if needed.
Wisconsin will take on the winner between Georgetown and No. 12 Oregon on Tuesday in the first semi-final at 7p.m. CT on ESPN2.