MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard said the Badgers have always had a guy like Zak Showalter.
And it's not just the flawless shooting performance he put on Saturday as the Badgers beat Rutgers 79-57.
Beyond the 8-of-8 shooting, including hitting all four 3-pointers he attempted, Gard credited Showalter for his tenacity, toughness and attitude he brings in practice as well as games.
''He was everywhere,'' said Gard, who snagged his first conference win since taking over for Bo Ryan last month. ''That's how he is. We've always had a few guys like that, and that has to remain our DNA.''
Showalter finished with a career-high 21 points to go along with three rebounds, two assists, a block and one steal.
One of his key buckets came seven minutes into the second half as Wisconsin watched a double-digit halftime lead dwindle to four points. Heeding Gard's charge during a timeout for the Badgers to stop being so jump-shot happy, Showalter drove and was fouled as he hit a layup. He completed the three-point play, his only free-throw attempt of the game, and sparked a Badgers run that put the game away.
Ethan Happ scored 16 points, shooting 7 of 8, and grabbed 10 rebounds for Wisconsin (9-6, 1-1 Big Ten), and Bronson Koenig added 14.
''I had a lot of open looks tonight. That helps going 8 for 8,'' Showalter said. ''My teammates did a good job attacking the paint and kicking it out to me.''
The Badgers took a 42-31 lead into halftime after shaking off an early challenge from Rutgers (6-9, 0-2). But after shooting 56 percent from the field in the first half, Wisconsin went without a field goal on its first 11 possessions of the second half, settling for just three free throws over the first seven minutes.
Midway through that spurt, Happ went to the bench with his third foul, and Rutgers closed within 43-39.
But then it was Rutgers' turn to go cold. After a layup by Bishop Daniels made it 45-41, Showalter completed his three-point play. From there, the Scarlet Knights hit only two field goals over a seven-minute stretch as Wisconsin pushed its lead to 63-45 on a layup by Koenig that completed an 18-4 run.
The Scarlet Knights are playing with just eight scholarship players, in part because of three injuries to their front court. Coach Eddie Jordan said the patchwork lineup didn't just hurt Rutgers in the paint, where Wisconsin won the rebounding battle 37-25 and had a 34-24 edge for points.
Jordan ticked off a list of players he said were playing out of position and said it indirectly contributed to Showalter's performance because of a domino effect.
Mike Williams led Rutgers with 20 points, while Daniels added 11.
''We just wore down with their size,'' Jordan said.
Wisconsin: The Badgers, who have built their reputation on defense over the past dozen seasons, gave up an average of 67 points through this season's first seven games. But they have given up fewer than 61 points over their last five games.
Rutgers: Jonathan Laurent went down hard in the second half after colliding with teammate Greg Lewis while going up for a rebound. Laurent, who was held scoreless and committed three fouls, did not return. Jordan said he expected to find out more about Laurent's status after meeting with reporters following the game. . The Scarlet Knights are still looking for their first road Big Ten win since joining the conference for the 2014-15 season.
SANDERS LEARNS A LESSON
Corey Sanders, who leads Big Ten freshmen at 14.2 points a game, was held to two points on 1-of-8 shooting, missing all four 3-pointers he attempted. Although he scored 17 points in a loss to Indiana on Wednesday, Sanders did not start, which Jordan called ''a bump in the road on the path to maturity.'' Jordan said Sanders has a ton of talent, but holes to fill in his game and his maturity level. ''If you're not on board and you don't have energy and a positive spirit, then you have to learn how to get it, and that's what happened today. It was me partly, and it was basketball gods the other part,'' Jordan said of Sanders' poor performance.
Wisconsin travels to Indiana Tuesday.
Rutgers travels to Maryland Wednesday.