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Hilltoppers’ Bassey holds his own in battle vs. Badgers’ Happ | WKU Sports

Western Kentucky’s star freshman stood tall against Wisconsin’s decorated senior from start to finish Saturday.

Charles Bassey’s performance against Ethan Happ was a big reason the Hilltoppers (7-6) scored an 83-76 upset of the 15th-ranked Badgers (10-3) at E.A. Diddle Arena.

WKU coach Rick Stansbury called Bassey “a man” for his play Saturday.

“Charles’ ability to guard (Happ) one-on-one was huge,” Stansbury said.

Offensively, Bassey missed only a single shot all night. He was 7-of-8 from the field and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line, notching the most efficient stat line of his young college career.

Bassey scored his buckets on four layups, two dunks and a short jumper.

“We did a good job on Bassey early and then he got some deep touches at the end of the first half that got him going,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “And he’s a really good player. We’re not surprised by that either.”

Happ reached 20 points, right around his 19.2 point-per-game average. But he arrived at that number on marks of just 9-of-23 from the floor and 2-of-3 from the foul stripe.

“Stay in front of him and don’t foul,” WKU guard Taveion Hollingsworth said of Bassey’s defense. “He can back him down or try to back him down as much as he wants to. As long as Charles is there, I knew he was going to either block it or have a good contest.”

Bassey (six) was outrebounded by Happ (12), but both players grabbed three offensive boards. WKU’s freshman also posted four blocks to the redshirt senior’s zero and had only one less assist (3-2).

Stansbury has changed his team’s defenses in games throughout the season, but stuck Saturday to a straight man-to-man.

“I feel like we played pretty good defense,” the Lagos, Nigeria, native Bassey said. “Playing the one-on-one game, it was a pretty good game. Coach told me to just play good defense and not pick up quick fouls.”

Happ came into Saturday’s game leading the Badgers in points, rebounds (10.6), assists (five) and blocks (1.3) per game. He’s the only player across Division I to average at least 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

All that production has earned Happ his share of national acclaim. He opened the year as just the fourth Preseason AP All-American in Wisconsin history and led the Ken Pomeroy Player of the Year standings Saturday night over Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett of Duke.

Happ’s an adept scorer in the paint and an opportunistic rebounder, but Stansbury was especially wary of his passing abilities. He entered the day with 60 assists on the season, 26 more than guard D’Mitrik Trice, who’s second on the team with 34.

Because of Happ’s passing skills, Stansbury was hesitant to double-team him. That left Bassey one-on-one with the Wisconsin big man.

Bassey’s ability to contest Happ on his own allowed other WKU defenders to stay with their men. That limited Happ’s chances to kick out to the perimeter to open shooters.

“I don’t think he created a play out of the post, a 3-point shot,” Stansbury said.

Happ is just the latest talented big man to bring out Bassey’s best.

The former five-star recruit Bassey collected double-doubles against Washington’s Noah Dickerson (11 points, 12 rebounds), West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate (13, 15) and Central Florida’s Tacko Fall (25, 10). He tallied 21 points, nine rebounds and five blocks earlier this month at Arkansas in a battle vs. center Daniel Gafford.

The 18-year-old Bassey now averages 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks for the Hilltoppers.{&end}

– Follow Daily News sports reporter Brad Stephens on Twitter @BradBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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