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Wisconsin Iowa Basketball

Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ drives past Iowa forward Luka Garza, left, during the first half of Friday's game in Iowa City.

IOWA CITY — Ethan Happ experienced plenty of adversity Friday night.

He didn’t score in the game’s first 12 1/2 minutes. He clanked three free throw tries. He spent a portion of the second half on the bench saddled with foul trouble.

But as the final seconds ticked off the clock and Wisconsin had wrapped up a gritty 72-66 Big Ten Conference road victory, the Rockridge product was overjoyed on the bench.

Happ had his worst statistical line of the season — 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists — and likely will relinquish his early-season stranglehold on Big Ten player of the week honors.

That was all inconsequential afterward.

With a large throng of family and friends, Happ was able to savor his final trip to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“If you were watching me on the bench the last couple of seconds, you could tell this meant a lot to me,” Happ said. “I always have a lot of family and friends come out, but this being the closest to home I’ll ever be, it is always special.

“It is all about coming out with a happy team. Individual performances come and go, but what leads you to the postseason are tough, gritty wins on the road.”

As expected, Happ had an overwhelming amount of support.

One lady walked out of the arena holding a sign: “South Milan loves #22 and BTN.” Even though Rockridge’s boys basketball team had a game Friday night, there were many from the Milan area among the 15,056 in attendance.

There was a young boy waiting to get an autograph and picture with the Wisconsin fifth-year senior afterward.

He obliged.

"It is a special thing we have in the Quad-Cities, especially Rockridge and my hometown of Milan,” he said. “We really take care of our own and support those we can support from afar.”

Happ admitted it was exasperating at times. It was the first time he hadn't recorded a double-double this season. 

Iowa threw multiple defenders at him throughout the game — Luka Garza, Tyler Cook and Ryan Kriener. When he did snatch the ball in a favorable position on the block, Iowa would sag a second and often a third defender.

It worked well for the Hawkeyes in the first half.

“Definitely frustrating,” Happ said. “You want to play well on the road, but when you come off a slow start and the foul trouble staggers out, you’ve got to be able to rely on teammates to keep us in the game.

“Fortunately, I was able to get going towards the end.”

When the Badgers trailed by five points midway through the second half, Happ took Garza one-on-one off the dribble for an eventual 3-point conversion. He tied the game with 7 ½ minutes left on a lay-up.

Then after Joe Wieskamp’s 3-point play inched Iowa in front with 3:13 remaining, it was a Happ delivery that pushed the Badgers to the finish line.

Wieskamp moved off Brevin Pritzl to help on Happ. The 6-foot-10 Happ found Pritzl in the corner, and he knocked down a trey to give Wisconsin a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“At times, Ethan goes a little too fast for his own good, but he does know where he’s got to get the ball and finds us when he needs to,” Pritzl said. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head sometimes.

“When he takes his time and plays the pressure the right way, we’re getting good looks left and right.”

With less than a minute left, Happ drove by Garza for a bucket to put the Badgers up by two possessions. 

Seconds later, Happ was whistled for his fifth foul. He immediately lifted up his jersey to put it in his face.

The disappointment was temporary. 

“I have belief in my teammates,” he said. “It is a different feel than last year. It doesn’t always have to be me. It is more of a team feel this year.”

As a result, Happ could walk to the bus with a happy feeling. 

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.