Coming into Sunday's game looking to bounce-back after a tough loss to Minnesota Thursday night, No.20 Wisconsin redeemed themselves in a big way.
Four UW players scored in double figures and six scored at least seven points in a dominant 71-49 thrashing of No.13 Ohio State Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
With conference co-leaders Indiana and Michigan State both pulling off Saturday wins, Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4 Big Ten) moved back within two games of first place with their fifth victory this season over a team ranked in The Associated Press top 25.
"I think every game is going to be a challenge no matter who it is," said junior guard Ben Brust, who led the Badgers with 15 points along with Jared Berggren. "Any team can beat any team ... Obviously you have to take care of what you can control and the rest will hopefully play out your way."
After trading baskets in the first few minutes, the Badgers pulled away on an 18-0 run, giving them the lead and momentum they would not lose. Three days after an 8:48 scoreless stretch cost the Badgers a road win in Minneapolis, Wisconsin shot a season-high 52.7 percent from the field (29-for-55).
"They were better, and I think they can get better again," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said about his team's effort. "Never too high, never too low. I'll find clips for tomorrow where I'll encourage the guys to improve their play and improve their decision-making."
The Badgers hit some tough shots and were consistent cutting to the basket to get easy points. Wisconsin outscored Ohio State 30-24 in the paint, 10-4 on second-chance points and 37-30 on the glass.
"Those guys did their jobs," said Ryan. "They worked hard [today]. They worked hard against Minnesota. Offensively they didn't make real good decisions and hit shots."
In addition to his 15 points, Berggren added eight rebounds and four blocks, but it was Brust who was the big factor on the glass. Brust recorded his fifth double-double of the season, and first in conference play, with 11 rebounds, adding three assists to one turnover.
Ryan said that Brust's effort on the glass showed that he has a "something-to-prove" attitude because he plays tough despite his size.
Defensively, the Badgers executed the game plan better than their Jan. 29 matchup in Columbus; a game that saw Deshaun Thomas scored 25 points as the Buckeyes shot 51.1 percent. Thomas hit 8 of 17 shots and finished with 18 points to lead the Buckeyes (18-7, 8-5), but struggled to shake the tight defense that Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans blanketed him with following his first bucket of the game.
"I was kind of late on the hedge," Bruesewitz said of Thomas' first basket. "We definitely didn't want him to do that, but then from that point on I tried to make sure everything he got was hard. Ryan did a great job too. The biggest thing was we couldn't let him get to the spots he wanted to and if he was going to score, it had to be an effort."
Added Ryan: "We did make him work. Sometimes you're more effective than others."
Outside of Thomas, Ohio State's offense was stagnant. Guard Aaron Craft struggled to get anything going offensively – finishing with four points on 2-for-9 shooting – as Wisconsin held the Buckeyes to just 37.5 percent from the field (21-for-56) and played not named Thomas to a combined 31 points (13 of 39).
"We had some point blank layups that didn't go in," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta. "I saw the panic more on the defensive end. The way we opened up the game defensively, guys catch and shoot, we weren't even challenging shots. We took the timeout like ‘what's going on here?' bewilderment."
Traevon Jackson bounced back from an admittedly poor performance at Minnesota to score 10 points (all in the second half) and had four assists. A few of those assists went to Sam Dekker, who took advantage of the open shots by giving the Badgers a spark and 13 points off the bench.
"The toughest part for competitors is if you have to sit and wait for a while," Ryan said. "So the fact that we had a game in a couple days, that's the best thing that can happen to a guy like Traevon. Traevon's believes in himself and his teammates believe in him."
And with five games left, four against the bottom four teams in the conference, Wisconsin still has a pulse.