UW MBB: ‘Relentless’ routine: Happ sets the pace

BY MIKE LUCAS

UWBadgers.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK — It sounded like a concession speech from Wisconsin's Zak Showalter, one of the hardest working players in the Big Ten. But he was more than willing to concede that title to his sophomore teammate Ethan Happ.

"He plays his (bleep) off," Showalter said.

Many would use the word "relentless" to describe Showalter's approach to playing basketball, which is what Rutgers' coach Steve Pikiell was saying about Happ after the Badgers escaped with a 61-54 overtime win over the Scarlet Knights here Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Showalter agreed with Pikiell on Happ, who scored 32 points in 36 minutes.

"It's so fun for me to be on the court with a guy like that," said Showalter, who's usually the recipient of praise for his work ethic. "I've kind of tried to be that guy that plays every possession as hard as I can. But to see him playing the way he is, which is exciting to see, I'm playing off him now."

Showalter then uttered something that resonated with anyone who saw the Badgers miss 25 of their first 30 shots while going the final 10:36 of the first half and the first 3:15 of the second half without scoring a basket; an ugly stretch where they couldn't throw it in the Hudson River.

"He (Happ) might not always start the best but he continues to do what we need him to do down the stretch," said Showalter, who could have easily applied that observation to the Badgers, who finally found their shooting range late in regulation (6-of-8 FGs) and overtime (5-of-6 FGs).

"We were saying, 'It's going to come, it's going to come.' It just took a lot longer than we wanted it to. I think we were frustrated for a lot of that game. I was frustrated. But you still have to stay positive and keep encouraging guys and you've got to pull it out."

And that's what the Badgers did in the end, they found a way to pull it out, thanks to Happ, who was the best player on the World's Most Famous floor from start to finish. Happ unleashed a variety of spins moves that befuddled Rutgers' low post defenders, C.J. Gettys, Shaquille Doorson, et al.

"That's kind of like a staple of mine," Happ said of his spintastic repertoire of counters. "If they're going to play it a certain way than I'm going to keep going to it. On a night when you're not shooting well, you don't go away from something (that's working). So, I just kept going back to it."

Happ was nearly unstoppable with his back to the hoop. He was just as effective facing it and beating his man off the bounce. That was especially true on UW's final possession of regulation with Rutgers clinging to a 45-43 lead and the Badgers in-bounding under their own basket.

Bronson Koenig got the ball to Happ, who caught the pass over his right shoulder at the 3-point arc. Since Koenig and Happ were unable to execute a dribble handoff, Happ used the dribble to attack Gettys and get to the rim for the game-tying basket. Both players had four personal fouls.

"Once I caught it," said the 6-10 Happ, "I knew there was five or six seconds left, something like that (there were actually seven seconds left), I knew there was plenty of time for me to get to the hole. And once I did, I didn't want to rush myself, so I pump-faked (Gettys) and took my time."

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