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Instant analysis: Freshman Chucky Hepburn rises to help Wisconsin beat Northwestern

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The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team improved to 15-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten Conference with an 82-76 victory over Northwestern on Tuesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois. Here are my quick thoughts on the game:

What I liked

UW freshman point guard Chucky Hepburn was coming off a couple quiet offensive games, managing three points on a combined 1-for-8 shooting in wins over Maryland and Ohio State.

But Hepburn bounced back in a big way, finishing with 14 points against the Wildcats. That was one short of matching his career high and included a 2-for-3 showing from 3-point range: one was deep and the other was really, really deep, a 60-footer that banked in at the halftime buzzer.

• Big Ten Network analyst Stephen Bardo pointed out on the broadcast that UW sophomore wing Johnny Davis might be the most competitive player in the Big Ten, and that’s not hyperbole.

After Davis got a bloody nose after a drive into the paint resulted in a no-call, it was pretty predictable what was going to happen next: Davis was going to get the ball and somehow find a way to score. That’s exactly what happened, with Davis’ finish in traffic giving UW a 73-66 lead with 4:27 left.

Davis bounced back from a 4-for-18 shooting performance in a win over Ohio State with an efficient effort: a game-high 27 points on 8-for-15 shooting.

What I didn’t like

UW was just 15 of 26 at the rim, with junior forward Tyler Wahl struggling the most.

The good news for the Badgers: Northwestern (15 of 29) was even worse.

• The Badgers got sloppy in the second half (seven turnovers) and could have made this a much less stressful victory with a much crisper finish.

UW was 2 of 8 from the free throw line in the final minute, with Hepburn and Davis both missing a pair and Wahl going 2 of 4.

What it means

UW is tied for first place seven games into the Big Ten season. Repeat: UW, picked to finish 10th in the conference, is tied atop the standings.

A split this week would have been a solid outcome for UW. Now it can go for a 2-0 week when it hosts Michigan State on Friday night at the Kohl Center.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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