Notes: Happ again a problem for Illinois

Notes: Happ again a problem for Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — Illinois sent double team after double team at Ethan Happ early in last month’s game at Wisconsin. The Badgers’ forward responded by finding his open teammates, who regularly knocked down shots in what turned into a 25-point Wisconsin rout.

The Illini took a different tact Thursday night against Happ, but the results were similar. Happ took advantage of open looks around the rim to lead Wisconsin with 27 points in its 78-69 victory Thursday night at State Farm Center, but he showed off his all-around game with eight assists and six rebounds as a complement to his scoring.

“That was a really, really good player pretty much having his way with us,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of Happ. “He’s a problem. We don’t have a lot of size. I figure you’ve got to pick your poison. We doubled him early at their place, and he sprayed it around and they made a boatload of threes. We said tonight we were going to try and choke those guys off a bit, which I thought we did early.”

Injuries to D’Mitrik Trice and Kobe King have forced Happ into a lead ball handler role. He showed off his abilities there against Illinois by finishing with more assists than the Illini had as a team (six).

“When Illinois puts that type of pressure on and some of our primary ball handlers are sitting at the end of the bench in street clothes being injured, we have to find other ways to handle that,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “Against that type of pressure and the facilitating he did and the playmaking, he’s a pretty complete player.”
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Happ’s teammates eventually got going Thursday night. Brevin Pritzl, who went scoreless in Wisconsin’s previous two games, scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Some rebounds and hustle plays in the first half, Gard said, helped Pritzl get into a rhythm.

“That got him mentally into the game, and then lo and behold shots go in,” Gard said. “It’s amazing how that works.”
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Underwood was less than thrilled by his team’s rebounding effort in the loss at Ohio State. The Illini remedied that against the Badgers, with Leron Black leading the way with 11 rebounds that gave him a double-double with his 13 points.

“We’ve just got to go get them,” Black said. “It’s nothing but heart. We’ve got to play with more heart and go get rebounds. We’ve just got to find ways to get the ball.”

Black hadn’t been in double figures rebounding since Illinois’ Dec. 30 win against Grand Canyon — the only other instance of that much production on the boards this season for the redshirt junior forward.
“We didn’t put him on Happ,” Underwood said. “We had him guarding Ford, where we thought he could kind of free up and go chase some balls. He was better (Thursday).”

Even with Black pulling down 11 rebounds, Underwood said the Memphis native needs help. Kipper Nichols had one rebound against the Badgers after playing just 15 minutes total and 2 minutes in the second half dealing with an illness. Michael Finke also had just one rebound.

“There’s a reason I’m playing Aaron (Jordan),” Underwood said. “Aaron goes and chases balls. The one thing I love about AJ is it’s not just his initial effort. It’s his second and third effort when guys try to block him out that he’s making. Those are winning plays.”
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Da’Monte Williams saw 1 minute of playing time Thursday. His struggles offensively kept him on the bench given Wisconsin’s defensive tendencies.

“The paint was a sea of red, and he hasn’t shot the ball particularly well in league play,” Underwood said. “I think he’s shooting 6 percent from the three-point line. That makes it pretty tough. There will be other nights for Da’Monte.”
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Williams didn’t get a shot up in his single minute on the court, but shooting woes handcuffed Illinois offensively. Black and Trent Frazier combined to 16 of 32 from the field. The rest of the Illini shot 5 of 23.

“The game is about making shots,” Underwood said. “You’ve got to make shots. We’ve won every place I’ve been because we made shots. You have to score, and you have to do it from multiple spots.

“I’ve tried avoiding it. Now I’m putting pressure on them. At some point you’ve got to jump up and make shots when they’re open.”