Battle of big men highlight Michigan-Wisconsin clash

Big men will be the focal points in a nationally televised Big Ten Conference game on Sunday as Wisconsin redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ and Michigan junior forward Moritz Wagner take their talents to the Kohl Center court in Madison, Wis.

The game marks the only regular-season meeting between the teams. Michigan (19-7, 8-5 Big Ten) posted two wins last season, in regular-season action and the Big Ten tournament.

Happ is fresh off a strong effort in Wisconsin’s 78-69 road victory at Illinois on Thursday. He scored 27 points and matched a career high with eight assists. Happ had assists on five of the team’s eight baskets from 3-point range.

The 6-foot-10 preseason All-Big Ten pick is pacing Wisconsin in points (17.8), rebounds (8.4) and assists (4.0) per game.

Badgers freshman Brad Davison said Happ’s confidence and leadership yielded results at Illinois.

“He was super aggressive tonight and really finished well around the rim, and he also made really good decisions kicking it out,” Davison told the Wisconsin State Journal after Thursday’s game. “We had a lot of open threes for him. He draws so much attention. He was huge for us.”

The Badgers (11-15, 4-9) halted a five-game losing streak with their 13th consecutive victory against the Illini. They secured a 25-point home win against Illinois on Jan. 9.

Wisconsin’s streak of 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances likely will come to an end this season, but the team is aiming to improve its record. The bottom four league teams play on the first day of the Big Ten Conference tournament, and Wisconsin would like to sit and watch on that day.

Meanwhile, Wagner, a 6-11 native of Berlin, Germany, leads the Wolverines in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.2).

Wagner scored 11 of his team-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting at Northwestern. The Wolverines squandered a 13-3 start.

The Wildcats succeeded in clamping down on Michigan’s perimeter game on Tuesday. The Wolverines struggled to navigate through Northwestern’s zone defense and shot 22.7 percent from long range.

Wagner has averaged 39.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc, but is 5 of 16 in the last three games.

Wagner said the Wolverines are at their best with a fast-paced offense. They couldn’t execute in Evanston, Ill.

“We couldn’t get in the flow, when you don’t have transition,” Wagner said. “We missed a lot of free throws too, and didn’t make shots.”

In the second half of the last three games, Michigan has shot 16 percent (4 of 25) from 3-point range. The Wolverines split a pair of games against Northwestern in that span and edged Minnesota 76-73 on the road.

Michigan coach John Beilein said he’s cognizant that his team needs to gain consistency with its shooting as the conference season winds down.

“Maybe we’re a little tired,” Beilein said. “We got a little chance — but we’ve got Wisconsin coming up on Sunday. But we’ve got to shoot the ball better. When we shoot the ball well, we’re pretty good.”