WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Zak Showalter sat on a chair under a white dry erase board, relaxing in the visiting NBA locker room at the Verizon Center in the nation's capital.
The Wisconsin guard twirled a water bottle in his hands and wore a white T-shirt that read: "MARCH INTO APRIL."
The Badgers appear to be doing just that after losing three games in a row late in the season. No. 24 Wisconsin advanced to the Big Ten championship game for the third time in five years, hammering Northwestern 76-48 on Saturday in a game in which it never trailed.
Wisconsin (25-8) will face No. 8 seed Michigan (23-11) in the title contest Sunday.
"We have not talked about the (NCAA) tournament at all," Badgers head coach Greg Gard said. "That is all we are worried about -- the game in front of us. We will rest up here and get ready for tomorrow."
Showalter attributed the turnaround to the team's defense, which was echoed by his teammates and coach. The Wildcats were held to a season-low point total.
"When guys (on the other team) are shooting tough twos, that is what we want them to shoot," said Showalter, who had 10 points and two assists.
"We are actually playing defense now," Wisconsin forward Vitto Brown, standing a few feet away, said with a laugh.
The Badgers held Northwestern to 26 percent shooting from the field in the first half and 35 percent in the game. The Wildcats had just seven second-chance points and lost the battle of the boards 37-27.
"Obviously limiting second-chance points, that took them out of it mentally," said Brown, who had eight points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes as a starter.
"Just playing Wisconsin defense. We worked a lot on the double team in practice," said Bronson Koenig, a starting guard who had eight points.
Senior forward Nigel Hayes had 18 points, 10 rebounds and three assists and sophomore forward Ethan Happ added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Badgers, who lost to Northwestern earlier this season.
"Just credit Wisconsin," said Wildcats coach Chris Collins. "I thought they were very good today. They were very sharp. They were very physical. They beat us to all the loose balls. I thought early in the game both teams were kind of struggling to get a rhythm early. I thought their ability to beat us in the hustle stats was big, offensive rebounds and loose balls."
Scottie Lindsey paced Northwestern (23-11) with 16 points but it was a long day for the Wildcats and their purple-clad fans, who will watch Selection Sunday to see if they are headed for their first-ever NCAA appearance.
"We didn't do a very good job of sharing the ball," said Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh (eight points). "We only had a couple of assists for the whole game. That's something we have to be better with. When we cause them to collapse, we got to share it."
But the Wildcats could make history on Selection Sunday.
"If that happens (Sunday) night, I think there will be a lot of happy people, which makes me happy," Collins said. "I'll be most happy for the players. Those are the guys that have earned this right."
Wisconsin, which led by 17 at halftime, took a lead of 45-26 on two free throws by Happ early in the second half.
Northwestern cut the margin to 46-33 on a basket by McIntosh, but Brown hit a 3-pointer with 10:30 remaining to make it 56-33.
The Badgers led 59-35 after another 3-pointer, this one by reserve D'Mitrik Trice, with 10:00 left and cruised down the stretch as several starters were able to get some rest in advance of the title game Sunday.
Wisconsin was 12 of 29 from 3-point range while the Wildcats shot just 35 percent from the field and had only five assists.
Northwestern trailed 38-21 at halftime as the Badgers hit 5 of 16 3-point shots, committed just three turnovers and grabbed seven offensive rebounds.
But the Wildcats had no answer for the Wisconsin defense.
"These guys understand that is where it starts," Gard said of the defense. "We will continue to build on it."
NOTES: The Badgers are now 23-16 in the tourney, with titles in 2004, 2008 and 2015. ... Northwestern beat Wisconsin 66-59 on Feb. 12 in Wisconsin as G Bronson Koenig was held two points on one of eight shots from the field. ... The Wildcats have a school-record 23 wins this season and were in the semifinals for the first time. ... Northwestern shot 26.9 percent in the first half and just 20 percent from 3-point range.