Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ tries to control ball as Maryland forward Jalen Smith defends Friday night.
MADISON – Does anyone doubt that Wisconsin is playing its best basketball of the season an appears ready to make a run at the Big Ten leaders?
Not long ago, UW was 3-3 in the Big Ten an appeared to be faltering.
After a riveting 69-61 victory over Maryland on Friday night at the Kohl Center, the Badgers are back among the top four of the league and first place isn’t all that far away.
Ethan Happ was again the catalyst with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists but the senior had help from all corners of the roster.
The Badgers (16-6, 8-3 Big Ten) extended their winning streak to five games and moved ahead of the Terrapins (17-6, 8-4) into fourth place in the league.
UW also moved to within one-half game behind third-place Purdue (15-6, 8-2), which hosts Minnesota on Sunday; one game behind second-place Michigan (20-2, 9-2), which suffered a 74-59 loss Friday at Iowa; and just 1½ games behind first-place Michigan State (18-3, 9-1).
Brad Davison hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 2 minutes 19 seconds and led UW with 21 points. He hit 4 of 6 three-pointers as UW finished 9 of 18 from beyond the arc. Davison is 19 for 36 from three-point range in the last eight games.
Aleem Ford, who missed all seven shots he took in UW’s victory at Nebraska, was all over the court Friday. He hit 2 of 4 three-pointers and finished with 10 points an three rebounds. His three-pointer with 2:59 left, off a feed from Happ, gave UW a 62-56 lead.
D’Mitrik Trice added seven points and three assists after two early turnovers. Brevin Pritzl hit 2 key three-pointers and Khalil Iverson added five points in 10 minutes.
Maryland shot just 34 percent overall in the teams’ first meeting but hit 8 of 16 three-pointers and 24 of 29 free-throw attempts.
The Terrapins were smoking in the first half Friday as they hit 6 of 10 three-pointers (60 percent) and 15 of 27 shots overall (55.6 percent) in building a 36-31 halftime lead.
They cooled after halftime, however, and UW was able to rally.
Maryland hit just 2 of 10 three-pointers in the second half, just 10 of 29 shots overall and finished just 3 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Guard Anthony Cowan, who hit the winning three-pointer and finished with 21 points in the teams’ first meeting, was limited to 11 points Friday. He hit just 4 of 16 shots.
Freshman guard Eric Ayala, who scored 11 points in the teams’ first meeting and entered the night at 8.5 points per game, scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half.
Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando combined for 21 points and 11 rebounds in the teams’ first meeting. On Friday, Fernando picked up his third foul with 17:10 left in the game and Smith got his third just eight seconds later. Fernando finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds; Smith had five and four.
Maryland, which entered the night shooting 36.9 percent from three-point range and 46.9 percent overall, got the better of UW’s defense in the first half.
Led by Ayala, the Terrapins hit 6 of 10 three-pointers (60 percent) and 15 of 27 shots overall (55.6 percent).
Ayala hit his first five shots, including 3 three-pointers, and led the way with 13 points.
Ayala hit timely baskets in the half. He buried a three-pointer seconds after Iverson scored on a dunk to cut the Terrapins’ lead to 21-17.
Then after Nate Reuvers turned the ball over, Ayala hit another three-pointer to push the lead to 26-17 with 7:23 left in the half.
UW was able to chip away and eventually cut the deficit to 36-31 by halftime.
Kobe King scored on a drive to pull UW within 30-27 but Ayala and Cowan hit back-to-back three-pointers for a 36-27 lead with 3:15 left.
Happ made 1 of 2 free throws and Trice came up with a late steal and fed Brevin Pritzl for a corner three-pointer just before the buzzer to pull the Badgers within five points.
Happ scored seven points to key a 9-4 run as UW forged a 40-40 tie with 16:10 left.
The Badgers had three chances to take the lead but Ford missed a three-pointer, Happ missed a hook and then missed two free throws.
Ayala and Cowan sandwiched three-pointers around a tip-in by Ford to give the Terps a 46-42 lead with 12:19 left.
Smith scored inside to push the lead to six but Pritzl and Davison answered with back-to-back three-pointers to forge a 48-48 tie.
After a Maryland timeout with 10:08 left, UW missed two more chances to take the lead as Happ missed inside and Trice missed a three-pointer.
The Terps took advantage with baskets by Aaron Wiggins and Cowan for a 52-48 lead
UW battled back and finally regained the lead.
Davison’s three-pointer gave UW a 54-52 lead; Ford’s three-pointer gave UW a 57-55 lead; and Happ scored while being fouled with 3:50 left for a 59-55 lead. He missed the free throw, however.
Fernando hit 1 of 2 free throws to cut the deficit to three but Ford buried a the critical three-pointer to push the lead to six and Davison helped UW secure the victory from the free-throw line.