After all, Belmont, winner of the Atlantic Sun Conference, was in the midst of a 12-game winning streak, and had won 21 of its past 22 games, while the Badgers had limped into the tournament after a pitiful display in the Big Ten tournament against Penn State when they scored just 33 points.
''We really forgot about the last two games,'' UW junior Jordan Taylor insisted. ''As soon as they were over we forgot about them.''
It appears that the Badgers were listening, as they used a solid effort defensively, and great individual performances from Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer, to handle Belmont by a score of 72-58 Thursday at McKale Center on the campus of the University of Arizona.
''I never stopped believing in the team. There was never any doubts there,'' said UW coach Bo Ryan. ''It's about what they can accomplish is the job of a teacher, a coach, a parent. You put young people in positions, you try to give them what you can.''
Belmont came into the game with a reputation as a dangerous team offensively, as they were the 11th ranked scoring team in the NCAA with 80.4 points per game. The 58 points scored against the Badgers was the Bruins' lowest scoring output of the season. ''This something we haven't had to face,'' Belmont's Mike Hedgepeth said. ''The ball screens with the five men who can step back and shoot. And, you know, they're like the best free-throw shooting team in the country.''
The Bruins entered the game shooting 38.1 percent from three-point range and 46.4 percent from the field. The Badgers' dominance defensively is reflected in how poorly Belmont shot the ball, as they connected on just 27.3 percent (6-22) of their three-point tries and 36.7 percent (18-49) of their attempts overall.
Wisconsin also did a great job of keeping Belmont's leading scorer Ian Clark in check as he hit just one of his eight shot attempts, and zero of his three three-point tries, on his way to four points. Coming into the contest, Clark had been averaging 12.4 points on 43.6 percent from beyond the arc and 49 percent shooting from the field.
Finally, a team that averages 9.4 three-point field goals, and 27.2 field goals overall, was held to just six threes and 18 made shots by a stout Wisconsin defense.
On the other end of the floor, Leuer led all scorer with 22 points, and he also added seven rebounds. During the game, he passed Trevon Hughes for 12th place on the all-time Wisconsin scoring list.
The catalyst offensively was without question Taylor, who after scoring an average of just 12 points over his last two games, returned to form with 21 points on 5-13 shooting, including 5-9 from three. He also dished out a game high six assists and was simply the best player on the court Thursday night.
''Any time you lose you want to play better,'' Taylor said. ''You kind of want to get back on the court. Scoring 33 points is, I mean, it happens I guess, not too often, but obviously it happens. We were just excited to get back on the floor. As you can see, guys were ready to relish this challenge of knocking down shots, and we had a number of guys do that today.''
Ryan's team received a huge boost from Mike Bruesewitz, who just hours before the game had his injured knee cleared by doctors to play. He was a spark plug off the bench, supplying two three-point shots at pivotal times for UW, and also posted a career high nine rebounds.
Much of the clamor this week centered around Wisconsin's recent struggles and vulnerability as a result. All of those questions and critics were answered with an outright dominant performance, as the Badgers will meet Kansas State in a rematch of a 2008 tournament second-round contest on Saturday.
Badgers Raining 3's
Wisconsin hit 12 threes in today's contest, their most made three-pointers in the NCAA Tournament since its 2008 loss in the Midwest Regional Semifinal to Davidson. Wisconsin, fourth in the Big Ten, 51st nationally in three point percentage, shot 54.5% in today's game. Five different Badgers scored a triple. Taylor hit 5 threes and collected 21 points on the night.
Staying on Top
Wisconsin leads the nation in free throw percentage. Prior to today's contest the Badgers led the nation with an 82.4% from the stripe. Wisconsin shot 80.0 (20-25) from the charity stripe.
Entering today's contest, Belmont's Ian Clark led the Bruins in scoring with 12.4 ppg. Wisconsin was able to hold the sophomore to 4 points, his lowest output since Jan. 25 at Lipscomb (when he was held to two points). Over the course of the season, Clark has 25 double-figure scoring games. Today's output snapped a four-game streak of double figures.
Wisconsin's senior forward Jon Leuer notched his 38th-straight game scoring in double figures. With his 22 points today, Leuer moved to 12th in Wisconsin history with 1,354 career points. Leuer passed Trevon Hughes (1,339) on the all-time list. In addition Leuer now has 20+ points in three straight NCAA tournament games.
The Belmont Bruins led the nation prior to today's contest in margin of victory (18.4). The tough Wisconsin defense held the Bruins to their season lowest points (58).
Between Wisconsin and Belmont there were six lead changes in the first half. The spread never went past two points until the second half opened and Wisconsin pushed the led to seven with a jumper by Leuer.
Quick Hits: Under Bo Ryan Wisconsin is 13-9 in the NCAA Tournament. Ryan-coached teams are now 9-1 in first round games … Today's loss for Belmont was the largest point margin on the season at 14 … Wisconsin's junior guard Jordan Taylor dished out six assists, the Wisconsin NCAA tournament record is seven by Tracy Webster in 1994 … The Badgers are 19-3 this season when out-rebounding opponent. With their 72 points Wisconsin is 14-0 when scoring 70 or more this season … Wisconsin's sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz notched his career-high rebounds in today's game with nine.