At the under-8 timeout during the second half Saturday afternoon, Michael Ballard approached Ethan Happ with what seemed like an odd demand for a walk-on to make to a star player.
Happ, a senior center on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team, was puzzled. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about? Why are you talking to me?’ ” Happ said. “He doesn’t talk to me during games all that much.”
It all made sense to Happ after he looked up at the scoreboard and realized he was a rebound short of completing his second triple-double of the season. He accomplished that feat moments later, bringing Ballard and the Kohl Center crowd to their feet.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Happ had added another chapter to his excellent career at UW with a 13-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance in a 62-46 win over Northwestern.
The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team defeated the Northwestern Wildcats, 62-46, on Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Between his scoring and passing, Happ accounted for 41 points on his own. That was almost as many as the Wildcats had as a team.
“He’s just an incredible college player,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.
Collins actually was pleased with the job his team did defending Happ in one-on-one situations. Happ was just 6 of 15 from the field and missed four of his five attempts from the free throw line.
But, as usual, Happ found a way to fill up the stat sheet even when his shot wasn’t going down. When Collins was asked about Happ’s ability to do that, he gave a 45-second answer that included more than 130 words.
Here’s the abbreviated version:
“He’s going to be a pro, he’s going to make money, but let’s celebrate him for what he’s been to the college game,” Collins said. “He is a phenomenal player and he impacts winning in so many ways. I’ve been a huge fan watching him for these four, five years. It’s a nightmare playing against him, but I love how he plays. He’s just a winner.”
UW sophomore guards D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison each scored 18 points for the Badgers (14-6, 6-3 Big Ten), who extended their winning streak to three games.
Trice and Davison were a combined 7 of 12 from 3-point range. UW went 9 of 19 from beyond the arc, with Happ assisting on six of those conversions.
“We know that when we’re aggressive, it takes some of the pressure off Ethan,” Davison said. “When we’re hitting shots, it gives him a little more room to work.”
Afterward, Collins talked about the dilemma Northwestern faced while figuring out how to contain Happ and the Badgers. Guard him one-on-one and he probably gets senior center Dererk Pardon in foul trouble. Double Happ and he does a good job of finding open teammates, which on Saturday led to Trice and Davison making the Wildcats pay the price.
“He’s so smart, he’s seen everything in five years,” Collins said. “He’s seen every coverage.”
Had someone told Collins before the game that Northwestern would hold UW to a shade over 60 points, he’d have taken it in a heartbeat. The bigger problem for the Wildcats (12-8, 3-6) was they couldn’t get anything going on the other end against the Badgers.
Northwestern shot 29.6 percent from the field to finish with 0.74 points per possession. None of the Wildcats reached double figures in scoring, with Pardon and Anthony Gaines leading the way with eight points apiece.
Senior forward Vic Law, who came into the game averaging 16.3 points per game, finished with six on 2-of-11 shooting.
“Defensively, one of our better efforts,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “I think this group is starting to grow in that way. … Not many mistakes. There were very few violations of rules and when we did have one, there was another teammate there to help out.”
When asked if he’s run out of superlatives to describe Happ, it didn’t take Gard long to come up with something that had nothing to do with his triple-double.
“The one thing that jumps out that’s maybe not on that stat sheet is the job he did defensively on Pardon,” Gard said, noting Happ spent more time than anticipated on Pardon because UW sophomore forward Nate Reuvers was limited to 14 minutes due to foul trouble. “He was really active in terms of his post defense and positioning. One of the better post defensive jobs he’s done.”
Two possessions after his pep talk from Ballard, Happ grabbed an offensive rebound with just under 6 minutes remaining to complete the third triple-double in program history. The list also includes the one he produced in the season opener against Coppin State and another by Josh Gasser at Northwestern in 2011.
Happ even finished the possession in style, feeding Trice for a 3-pointer – his 11th assist of the game – that gave UW a 52-36 lead.
“Today he just did a really, really good job of finding the open guy and making the easy pass,” Trice said. “If we continue to use that formula, I think we’re going to see a lot of games like this from Ethan.”