"I think we expected to be 13-0," Taylor stated. "I thought we were going to be 13-0. The two games we lost obviously were tough games, but I think we responded through that tough week in a good way and learned some new things, both positive and negative."
Yes, Wisconsin (11-2) lost to both its ranked nonconference opponents (by five at North Carolina and by seven against Marquette three days later), but the Badgers have to be ahead of the curve entering tonight's Big Ten opener at Nebraska considering all the things they've figured out about themselves in challenging situations.
UW played NCAA competition on back-to-back nights, played eight games in 21 days, played four games on the road and had successfully scrapped through games when its shot wasn't cooperating. As a result, the Badgers are 3-1 away from the Kohl Center, 3-2 in games where it shoots under 43 percent and 5-2 when it shoots less than 40 percent from three-point range.
"It's a long season and things aren't going to go your way all the time during the Big Ten season," said Josh Gasser. "There are a lot of good teams, so you are going to have to grind out games and find different ways to win throughout the season. We've done that the past couple games when our shooting hasn't been great."
Those things have been the Badgers' defense. Despite scoring only 68.2 points per game (180th in the country), Wisconsin finished the nonconference schedule leading the nation in scoring defense, allowing 44.7 points per game. Since 1996-97, only the 2003-04 Air Force team gave up fewer points per game against its nonconference schedule, and the Falcons could only manage 46.7 per game.
After allowing 45 points against Mississippi Valley State Friday, the Badgers have held 11 of 13 opponents to their season-low point total and 8 of its 13 opponents to 45 points or less.
"As a team defensively, we've been pretty good," said Taylor, as UW has held 17 consecutive opponents to 65 points or fewer, the nation's longest such streak. "There are always areas where there is room for improvement. As individuals, I think every guy has done a good job."
It also helps when the Badgers are getting balanced offense. Through 13 games, six different players have at least two double-digit scoring games, four players are averaging at least 10 points per game and the Badgers have developed an inside presence because of big jumps made by Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans.
Scoring in double figures in 9 of 13 games this season after reaching double digits just once in his career prior to this season, Berggren has raised his scoring average 10.1 points per game from last season, equaling teammate Ben Brust for the third-highest increase in the Big Ten.
While Berggren leads the Badgers in scoring (12.5 ppg) and steals (20), Evans leads the team in rebounds (7.0 per game) and blocks (19) and ranks second in steals (16), a sign that Wisconsin has a lot of players that can produce.
"They've got a lot of guys who can do (score)," said Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax, who saw four UW players score in double figures against his club. "The whole five (players on the floor) is looking for everybody in their sweet spots, just dissecting the defense. If we over helped a couple times, Berggren can pop out, hit jump shots and take advantage in the post off the dribble. That's the beauty of Bo (Ryan). He teaches his players patience."
In search for their first conference championship since 2008, Wisconsin's schedule is favorable. The Badgers play back-to-back road games twice, but have a seven –day break between their trips to Minnesota and Michigan State. Wisconsin also doesn't have to travel to undefeated Indiana (12-0) or always-challenging Northwestern (10-2).
Still, the Big Ten has nine of its 12 teams already with 10 wins while Ohio State, ranked second in the country, suffered its only loss without super sophomore Jared Sullinger at Kansas (where the Jayhawks are a nation's best 163-9 at home since 2001).
But with Wisconsin proving its solid defensively and having shown more than a couple flashes on offense, the Badgers feel they will once again have a big say in who hoists the trophy.
"We're happy with the way we are playing, but we know we still aren't there yet," Gasser said. "We have a lot of work to do, offensively especially. We are playing pretty well defensively. We are gelling together and getting more comfortable with a lot of new guys. Experience is sometimes the key with a young group."
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