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Wisconsin Basketball: Defense Makes Second Half Strides vs. Rutgers

Behind a strong second half defensive showcase, the Wisconsin basketball program got back on track on senior night.



Wisconsin Badgers basketball
Mar 7, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Gavin Griffiths (10) dribbles the ball against Wisconsin Badgers forward Tyler Wahl (5) during the first half at Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

It was a sloppy start for the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program filled with turnovers and missed shots. But a strong second half defensive showing masked the early blunders.

Tyler Wahl went out a winner at the Kohl Center after UW prevailed 78-66. The senior had a tough night with just 3 points and 6 rebounds to his name. However, the grateful red cheered him on after he checked out for one final time.

To fill the scoring void, AJ Storr had 19, Steven Crowl pitched in 17, John Blackwell had 17 off the bench, and Kamari McGee had 11 in his first game back from injury. McGee gave Wisconsin basketball a huge lift at the backup point guard slot.

But most impressive of all was the Badgers finding their stride on the defensive end during the second half.

Wisconsin Basketball Defense Shows Up In Second Half

Rutgers shot lights out from both three and two in the first half, continuing their strong shooting from the first matchup. UW continued to give up easy mid range jumpers, open threes, and uncontested layups.

Then, about five minutes into the second half, Wisconsin’s defense began clamping down on Rutgers. Fighting over screens, showing active hands, and contesting shots at the basket.

The Scarlet Knights over 50 percent shooting in the first half slowly dwindled down to 45% by the end of the game. Whether you credit the improvement to coaching adjustments at the half or just more inspired play overall, whatever it was, it worked.

Remember, this is a defense for Wisconsin basketball that surrendered 62% shooting to a struggling Indiana team and 52% shooting and 91 points to Illinois.

The return of some strong defensive possessions is a welcome sight for many who continue to have high hopes for this UW squad.

Welcomed Bench Scoring From the Badgers Guards

Junior Kamari McGee missed 11 games after breaking his toe against against Indiana in mid-January. Most figured Blackwell and Max Klesmit would be able to fill the void with little issue.

Those fans, including me, were wrong as Wisconsin limped down the stretch going 4-7.

McGee returned off the bench Thursday night and provided the spark and reprieve for Chucky Hepburn that was needed. The backup guard shot 5-5 from the field and provided strong perimeter defense.

Was McGee’s injury the entire reason for the Wisconsin basketball skid? No chance. Does having a backup point guard like him off the bench bring a punch to the lineup both offensively and defensively? Most definitely.

Yes McGee only averaged 6.8 minutes a game this year. But, he had recorded 2-plus steals three times heading into Thursday night’s tilt. He’s a difference Maker.

The freshman Blackwell isn’t half bad either. Not only can he hit big shots in big moments, but he plays with the poise of a senior and has improved his defensive activity as the season has progressed.

Blackwell’s 19 points were crucial for an offense that struggled to make shots at times against the Scarlet Knights.

What’s Next For Wisconsin Basketball?

Wisconsin faces off with Purdue Sunday with Big 10 Tournament seeding on the line.

The Wisconsin Badgers currently sit in a three-way tie in the conference for third with Nebraska and Northwestern. A win would go a long way in securing Wisconsin Basketball a top 4 seed and a double bye.

Is the upset possible? Yes — if UW plays like they did in the second half. Likely? Probably not.

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