No. 12 Wisconsin hosts Rutgers in Big 10 home opener
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No. 12 Wisconsin has done stellar work in a four-day span, handing a pair of opponents their first loss of the season.
That's a good turn of events for the Badgers (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten Conference), who host Rutgers in their Big Ten home opener in Madison, Wis. on Monday night.
Wisconsin is fresh off a 12-point road win at then-No. 14 Iowa on Nov. 30, and outlasted NC State last week in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Redshirt sophomore guard D'Mitrik Trice, sidelined for the majority of last season with a right foot injury, scored 20 points against the Hawkeyes.
Trice drained 8-of-13 baskets from beyond the arc the past two games and made all four free throws he attempted in Iowa City.
Trice and fifth-year senior forward Ethan Happ are both averaging 17.4 points per game.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said he's been pleased to watch the Badgers' determination in games so far, after injuries and inconsistent play derailed last season. The team missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.
"I think this group has embraced that, they understand as they've grown -- as they grew through last year -- what it took when you have to dig a little deeper," said Gard of the Badgers, whose only loss is a 53-46 setback on Nov. 23 to then-No. 4 Virginia in the Bahamas. "And they've embodied that.
"You can be in situations a lot of times when things don't go as you planned, and don't go as you want. You're not going to make every shot and there will be nights when you're going to struggle. But to have the fortitude to fight back and keep rallying, it's a good trait to have."
Happ, a pre-season All-American, averages 11.4 rebounds per game, and has recorded double-doubles in seven of eight games.
Meanwhile, Rutgers junior forward Eugene Omoruyi scored 13 points and had 11 rebounds as the Scarlet Knights (5-2, 0-1) gave then-No. 9 Michigan State a tough battle, but eventually fell 78-67 on Friday to the Spartans in Piscataway, N.J.
Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said his squad needs to excel in all game facets to contend against Michigan State.
"You have to be elite when you are playing them," Pikiell said. "They are the most physical team in the league."
Omoruyi, who has four double-doubles this season, has averaged 15.1 points per game and 9.1 rebounds, while sophomore point guard Geo Baker contributes 14.6 points per game.
Scarlet Knights freshman guard Caleb McConnell provided a spark off the bench when Baker was in foul trouble early against Michigan State, scoring seven points in 11 minutes.
Though Rutgers will be playing its third game in six days, Pikiell said he anticipates that players will be ready to tackle the Badgers.
"The guys need a good night of rest and will get back to work," he said. "We fly out Sunday, so we have to be prepared."
Wisconsin leads the series between the teams 6-2, but Rutgers nabbed the most recent game, a 64-60 win last January in Piscataway.
Updated December 3, 2018