Madison, WI – Heading into Wisconsin’s match-up with Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon, missing from a listing of the top 30 scorers in the Big Ten was the name of Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes, voted as the conference’s preseason player of the year. Rebounding from a slow start to the season, Hayes had a statement game on Tuesday when he posted a double-double in leading the Badgers to a 77-60 victory over Syracuse. He had a breakout game on Saturday afternoon scoring 28 points on only 13 shots to lead Wisconsin to a 90-70 victory over Oklahoma.
Struggling with his shot for much of the early going of the season and entering the game with a 40 percent field goal percentage and a three-point percentage south of 30, Hayes started strong making half of his six shots in the first 20 minutes of play in scoring ten points. He finished even stronger going off for 18 second-half points including converting on all eight of his free throw attempts.
“Nigel has a unique skill set,” said Wisconsin Coach Greg Gard. “He’s a hard match-up for people. But the further away from the basket he gets, the more the hard match-up levels off or dissipates.”
Wisconsin ran its offense through Hayes the whole game, but the Badgers made a concerted effort to find him in the second half. Receiving passes at the elbow and mid-post areas of both sides of the lane, Hayes took the mid-range jump shot when given space and drove the ball when his defender pressed up on him. He was especially effective posting up his defender and using his vision to find open teammates. Building on a ten-assist game against Syracuse, Hayes followed up with six assists against the Sooners.
“I wanted to shoot in rhythm and get to the free throw line and I think I did a decent job of that in the second half,” said Hayes. “We wanted to play inside-out.”
Asked how challenging it was to defend Hayes, Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger answered, “Very challenging. He’s a terrific player and even more difficult to stop when knocking down jump shots like he did today.”
Hayes had plenty of help from senior guard Bronson Koenig, sophomore center Ethan Happ and freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice, each of whom finished with 16 points shooting a highly efficient 19-for-32 combined from the field.
Koenig, who rediscovered his shooting touch against Syracuse connecting on 6-of-9 shots from behind the three-point arc, made 4-of-10 attempts from distance against the Sooners. He made 3-of-5 shots from distance in the second half, shooting off the catch, off the bounce and one time draining a straight-on three from well behind the stripe.
Happ is one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball. At 6-10 with broad shoulders and long arms, Happ does most of his work from the short corner to the rim and is especially skilled at using the rim for protection to finish his shot on the opposite side. Entering the game third in the Big Ten with a .687 shooting percentage, Happ raised his percentage to .697 by making 7-of-9 shots against the Sooners.
“He (Happ) is quick enough, strong enough to where he doesn’t have to shoot jump shots to be effective,” said Gard in explaining Happ’s ability to score primarily at the rim. “Today he just came up short (nine rebounds) of a double-double against an athletic front line.”
The last name of “Trice” will be familiar to Big Ten fans who watched D’Mitrik’s brother, Travis, play a key role for four years on highly successful teams at Michigan State in recent years. Following up a solid game against Syracuse coming off the bench to score six points on 2-of-4 shooting from long distance, Trice made all four of his three-point tries against Oklahoma and added two field goals inside the arc to account for his 16 points.
“From day one that he’s come in here, he’s done a terrific job of doing his job and fitting in,” said Gard of Trice. “He’s watched his brother and his dad (a high school coach) and he brings a calming influence to our backcourt. He’s also had the experience of playing an extra year at IMG so he’s had advantages other freshmen don’t have.”
“I’m really proud of his aggressiveness,” said Koenig. “He was fearless pulling up for a three-point shot at the end of the shot clock. We trust him to make the right plays.”
Oklahoma played a strong first half getting four or more points from seven different players in shooting 50 percent from the field and a scorching 63 percent from behind the three-point arc. The Sooners like to play fast to showcase the skills sets of guards/wings Jordan Woodard, Rashard Odomes, Christian James, Kristian Doolittle and Kameron McGusty, all possessing instincts to score. Woodard started on Oklahoma’s Final Four team of last season and entered the game leading the Sooners in scoring (17 ppg), assists (28) and steals (16).
Forced to play in the halfcourt, Oklahoma runs a dribble handoff offense hoping to create an angle for one of its guards to attack the rim off the dribble. McGusty, a 6-5 freshman and Odomes, a 6-6 sophomore, repeatedly found their way to the paint in the first half and entered halftime with nine and five points, respectively.
“We had some issues with their dribble handoffs and weaves in the first half,” said Gard. “Two things: we had miscommunication at times on their exchanges and sometimes we had two guys going right when the ball was going to the left.”
Thinking longer about his team’s first half defense, Gard added a third thing he didn’t like about his team’s halfcourt defense in the first half. “We were also playing too far back and allowing their players to get too much of a head of steam and playing downhill. In the second half, we forced them into taking tougher shots. We got better defensively as the game went along, but we need to be better from the start. I don’t want us to have to be dependent on scoring 90 points every time.”
In addition to Woodard, Oklahoma returns one other starter from last year in 6-9 junior center Khadeem Lattin. Lattin is a lean, long, energy big who provided one of Oklahoma’s first half highlights catching a lob pass abovet the rim and flushing it with force. He was active on both backboards and his seven rebounds led the Sooners. Making all five of his free throw attempts, Lattin finished with nine points.
Both teams return to action on December 7 with Wisconsin entertaining Idaho State and Oklahoma hosting intrastate rival Oral Roberts.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
Any international players interested in coming to the USA to play in college, prep school or high school can contact us here. We are looking for interns and sales associates. If you’re interested contact us and forward your resume.