Top 6th man Hayes boosts Wisconsin off bench

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Illinois forward/center Nnanna Egwu (32) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Champaign, Ill. Wisconsin won 75-63. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl)
Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Illinois forward/center Nnanna Egwu (32) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Champaign, Ill. Wisconsin won 75-63. (AP Photo/Rick Danzl)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Six-foot-seven forward Nigel Hayes is giving Wisconsin a huge boost off the bench in his freshman year.

The Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year is preparing for his first NCAA tournament. The second-seeded Badgers (26-7) face No. 15 seed American on Thursday in Milwaukee.

Hayes is averaging 8.0 points overall but 9.8 points in conference play, when he got more minutes.

He’s still learning, and foul shooting especially could improve. Associate head coach Greg Gard said the presence the 6-foot-7 Hayes provides has been crucial to Wisconsin’s success.

Hayes has been Wisconsin’s best offensive player at times, especially during a midseason slump. But he doesn’t have to be go-to guy, either, on a team filled with savvy veterans running a balanced offense.

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