Forward Ethan Happ emerging in paint for surging Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Ethan Happ has grown up quickly at Wisconsin.
The 6-foot-9 forward is getting used to jostling for position in the paint against other Big Ten big men. As redshirt last year, the freshman practiced against consensus player of the year Frank Kaminsky.
Those lessons are paying off now for the Badgers.
Happ is leading scorer Nigel Hayes' running mate in the frontcourt. He can post up to the bucket with either hand.
And, perhaps most impressively, Happ is the Big Ten leader in steals, averaging 2.5 per conference game and 1.8 overall.
''The biggest thing is growing up, I always played point guard and kind of read the scene that way,'' Happ said about his defensive mentality following a win over Illinois on Sunday. ''Once I shot up, it's been a lot easier to get around bigger guys.''
No. 8 Iowa (20-6, 11-3 Big Ten) provides the next big test for Happ and surging Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5) on Wednesday. Happ's play has been instrumental in helping the Badgers win eight of their last nine games and climb back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
''He's really good in the low post. His length defensively has helped them, so he's a solid rebounder at both ends,'' Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffrey said. ''He's got really good instincts.''
Illinois got a firsthand look after Happ had six steals in Wisconsin's 69-60 win on Sunday, the most by a Badgers player since Joe Krabbenhoft had six against Ohio State in 2009.
Some of the same skills that allow Happ to contribute on the offensive end, which include good footwork and a feel around the bucket to play off bodies, also help on the other end of the court.
Interim coach Greg Gard said Happ can counter post players and ''feel which way weight is being shifted and kind of counter that a little bit.''
The result on Sunday led to loose balls in the lane, with Happ there ready to scoop up a turnover.
But he could get much better.
Already a dangerous in the post, Happ needs a jump shot to develop into a more complete offensive player.
Defensively, Gard said Happ gambles too much at times, a freshman mistake that Happ says he's working on to correct.
''I mean there were a couple times when I shouldn't have gambled,'' Happ said after the Illinois game. Next to him Hayes, smiled and shook his head while covering his eye in mock disappointment.
But the defensive potential is there, according to Gard.
Happ also played baseball, and his cousin is Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ. Gard said he likes Ethan Happ's hand-eye coordination and ability to ''stay on balance and move and counter people's attempt to pin him defensively.''
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