"Having confidence in each other, letting each other know that we're doing all the right things and that they (the shots) are going to go down," said senior Ben Brust. "We all have confidence in each other. It's a tight group."
No.14 Wisconsin had to be a close-knit bunch to put forth the kind of performance it did Tuesday night, flipping a 10-point halftime deficit into a 15-point lead in the final four minutes, a 25-point swing that raised the volume at the Kohl Center to blistering levels in the second half of the Badgers' 69-58 victory over Indiana.
After having its leading scorer score five points at halftime, Wisconsin (23-5, 10-5 Big Ten) put five players in double figures for the eighth time this season and hung 50 on the Hoosiers in the final 20 minutes, averaging 1.72 points per possession.
"Shots went down, that's all you can really say for that second half," said sophomore Sam Dekker, who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half after UW coach Bo Ryan challenged him to be more aggressive and play harder. "… Sometimes you aren't always going to get the rolls. Second half we got that and got some good looks and put them up with confidence."
The win, coupled with Iowa's loss at Minnesota, puts the Badgers 1.5 games up over the Hawkeyes and Nebraska, both tied in fifth place at 8-6. The top four teams get a bye in the first round of the conference tournament. UW also avoided a potentially damaging loss to its tournament resume that could have affected the Badgers opening the NCAA tournament in Milwaukee.
Ryan chided the bracket talking heads about writing the Badgers into the Milwaukee pod with a sharpie following its impressive victories last week, saying all his team was worried about was Indiana. He wasn't kidding, as the Hoosiers (15-12, 5-9) jumped out to a 29-19 halftime lead after UW missed 20 of its 27 first half shots, including going 1-for-10 from 3-point range.
It was UW's largest deficit since Jan.29 in its loss to Northwestern and a stark turnaround after building double-digit leads that acted as cushions in last week's road victories at Michigan and Iowa.
"It's 40 minutes of basketball, not 20, so our best 20 is ahead of us," said Dekker. "It's our turn to do it."
It took less than six minutes to erase the problem. After trying to drive the ball from the top of the key in the first half, Josh Gasser (11 points) and Traevon Jackson (14) both attacked the lane from the wings, resulting in easy layups on UW's first two second-half possessions.
The Badgers stayed aggressive, as Dekker converted two free throws after crashing the glass for an offensive rebound and Gasser drove the lane before kicking to Dekker for a wide-open 3-pointer, forcing an Indiana timeout to try and stop a 9-2 run.
"All their starters can shoot the ball, but they can all pass the ball, and that's such a big part," said Indiana coach Tom Crean, as the Hoosiers have won in Madison since 1998, a span of 12 games. "A lot of times you are getting ready for one or two guys that are very good passers. There whole team is. The bottom line is they got some good looks. They got hot and the basket starting looking pretty big for them."
It also helped that Wisconsin saw its perimeter marksman finally dial in the sights. After missing 16 of 17 3-pointers over a three- game stretch, Brust hit three in a three-minute stretch that put UW ahead for good.
"Ben always thinks the next one is going in," said Ryan. "As long as he keeps playing defense and doing what he does and taking care of the ball, the shot will fall. He can trust me on that one."
Added Brust, who finished with 12 points: "I knew it was only a matter of time. I knew it was going to start, so just start now … It was definitely good to get a couple to go down."
The crowd continued to erupt with each make. After Gasser hit an open 3-pointer, let his right arm linger in the air for a couple seconds and watch as the UW bench sprinted on to the court following an Indiana timeout, the decibel level hit its apex at 3:25 after Jackson's 3-pointer capped a 12-0 run to give UW biggest lead at 58-43.
"We just didn't guard the dribble as well," said Crean. "We got overpowered a couple times. They spread it out. That's one of the reasons they've been playing so much better. It wasn't anything that we really haven't seen."
After getting embarrassed defensively in the first meeting between the two teams, Wisconsin did better on guard Yogi Ferrell (who scored nine of his game-high 24 points in the final 83 seconds), held Will Sheehey without a point for the final 37:07 and didn't allow any other Hoosiers player to score over eight.
Giving up 52 points in the paint in the first meeting, the Badgers gave up only 22 in the lane, further proof that UW is a dangerous bunch when everything is clicking.
"As long as we're playing together and getting things done defensively as a team, it doesn't matter who scores," said Frank Kaminsky (10 points). "It just matters if we're getting stops and doing everything right."