Even though they were on an eight game winning streak, fans were starting to question the validity of some of Wisconsin’s wins earlier this season and wonder how good the team would be when presented with a real challenge. Those fears became a reality on February 12th, when the Northwestern Wildcats came in and flipped the Badgers world upside down.
Not only did the loss drop the then #7 Badgers out of the top ten, it sent them on a losing streak that threatened to derail their season completely as March Madness approached. The Badgers lost 4 out of five games after that and started to look like they were a fluke as teams continued to exploit the weakness that Northwestern had exposed.
A lot of the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of senior forward Nigel Hayes. Fans were starting to question his ability on the court and whether or not he could be the leader the Badgers need to guide them into tournament season. He seemed to disappear when the team needed him the most.
Those questions seem to have been answered fairly emphatically last night.. Hayes tallied a double-double as he led all scorers with 18 points and added 10 rebounds as the Badgers reigned down revenge on the hapless Wildcats.
This win should not only help restore the Badgers confidence but it should help them regain the swagger they need as they prepare to face Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game tonight.
Michigan is no slouch but if the Badgers keep playing this loose style of basketball and finish on both sides of the court, they could run away with this one as well.
“We can play complete basketball. Most of the year, we’ve been playing ‘defense only,’ but it’s a lot easier when the ball goes in on the other side. Nigel Hayes said after the win. If we continue to play aggressive like we are and that’s what coach has been telling us, ‘to play aggressive, to play free, to play confident. if we continue to do that and play well on defense, we’ll be pretty good.”
The Badgers have gotten solid performances from other players but it seems that if they plan on having the kind of success they are hoping for Hayes is going to have to lead them. If he does, the sky is the limit for this resilient team.