In the quarterfinals on Friday, Bronson Koenig joined that conversation as the two combined for 29 points – helping No.12 Wisconsin produce a season-high 38 points off the bench - in an 83-57 whipping over Minnesota.
Koenig couldn't miss in his 23 minutes, shooting 5-for-5 from the field, including four 3-pointers, leading to a career-high 14 points that went along with his three rebounds and three assists. Hayes took over in the second half, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes.
"They were awesome tonight," junior Josh Gasser said of the freshmen. "They're such talented young kids, especially on the offensive end. They can do this any night. They do this in practice all the time. It's no surprise to any of us. It's just great to see guys off the bench bring energy, give us a spark and they were just two of the guys that did it tonight for us."
In a game where Traevon Jackson did not score and Gasser was in and out of the game with foul trouble, it was important for Koenig to produce and eat up key minutes off the bench.
"I just tried to play my game, come out there and be aggressive," Koenig said. "[After] my turnover (at 10:03 in the first half) my teammates just kept encouraging me to be aggressive and make plays."
Koenig had played more than 20 minutes just once in his previous five games. In those games, the guard scored just 18 total points with 12 coming in a road victory at Iowa.
"He was great. He was aggressive, especially after he hit that first one," Gasser said. "He was really aggressive, looking to make things happen for himself and his teammates and when he's doing that. He's so talented that he can make so many different plays."
Koenig's presence off the bench kept Wisconsin calm, while Hayes' created a tough matchup for the three defenders he faced in the game with his inside-outside presence. Whether it was center Elliott Eliason or Joey King, Hayes was able to use a quick spin to the basket or hit his midrange jump shot to beat the Minnesota defense.
At one point in the second half Hayes paced the offense by himself – scoring seven straight points with less than seven minutes left in the game – expanding UW's lead to 62-45. He finished shooting 6-for-9 from the field and grabbed six rebounds.
"Well, really I was just trying to get the ball to Ben," Hayes said, referring to senior Ben Brust, who finished with a career-high 29 points. "Ben was shooting the ball pretty well, so if I did have the opportunity to take my own shot, I was trying to make sure that I made it because Ben makes his…Josh [Gasser] always makes his shot. Bronson was five for five, so I was just trying to be like those three, and I feel like I did pretty well. Not as good as them, but I have work to do, and I'll try and do better next game."
The early emergence of the two freshmen off the bench has given the Badgers depth where it needs it.
"That's all credit to Coach Ryan and the coaching staff," Hayes said about the freshmen duo's play. "They do a great job of talking to us and explaining to us how situations would be for when we get out there and see that situation, we're already prepared to handle it. I think we just -- with the preparation we've been given, I feel like we go out there and execute and do pretty well."
A Big Ten title, which UW hasn't won since 2008, is always one of the goals, which is certainly clear to the freshmen who have been a key part of the Badgers' success this season. If the freshmen continue to contribute and keep the Badgers balanced, Gasser thinks a title is reachable.
"That's our goal. We talk about it a lot, how bad we want to win a title. This is a chance right here for us so we're all on the same page with that and they [the freshmen] understand that."