Carrying a chip on their shoulder following last year's early exit, Wisconsin played about as good as it possibly could in the final 30 minutes, giving Badgers fans some excitement that this team is primed for a deep tournament run after picking apart 15th-seed American in a 75-35 victory at the Bradley Center Thursday afternoon.
Traevon Jackson scored a game-high 18 points and Ben Brust added 17 points for Wisconsin (27-7), which advanced to the third round with its largest victory of the season and largest in NCAA tournament history.
"I think we did a good job in terms of getting the shots we wanted and one possession at a time," said Jackson, who added four rebounds, three assists and two steals to just two turnovers. "That's what we did, one possession at a time."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan alluded to the fact the Badgers might be a little tight with their shot selection as the first half progressed, while others said it was the adjustment period to the American Princeton offense. Either way, it was a logical explanation why UW went seven minutes scoreless and saw American go on a 12-0 run to take its largest lead at 17-10.
"They really opened our eyes," said Gasser, who finished with seven points and a team-high four assists. "From there on we started focusing in on the defensive end, forcing them into some really tough stuff."
Once in tuned to the game plan, the Badgers were hard to slow. Closing the half on a 19-3 run, UW did most of the damage without Kaminsky, who scored the Badgers first six points in the paint but sat for the final 4:44 with two fouls.
UW outscored American 15-2 with Kaminsky on the bench, thanks in large part to Brust scoring eight consecutive that lifted the decibel level.
It was all Wisconsin after that, as the Badgers went on a 69-11 run, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from the 3-point line for the game.
"Once everyone sees one go down, it kind of spreads and everyone started hitting a couple," said Brust, as Wisconsin improved to 21-5 against unranked teams this season. "And Frank had some open looks that he normally hits, and, you know, he's going to hit them next game. Touching in the post inside and having some inside presence really helps open some things up. (We) got a couple to go down and kind of spread through there."
Champions of the Patriot League, the Eagles – whose 49.5 field goal percentage was seventh in the country- shot 53.8 percent (7-for-13) in the early going, but became stymied by Wisconsin's length and defense. American (20-13) shot 29.7 percent from the floor, attempting 15 fewer shots than Wisconsin, and made only three attempts in a second half in which they were outscored 43-13.
The Eagles' 13 points in the second half were the fewest in a half for a Badgers opponent in a modern era NCAA tournament game.
John Schoof and Tony Wroblicky each scored 11 points for American, which committed 17 turnovers that resulted in 16 Wisconsin points.
"I wish we could have made it a better game today representing ourselves and the league a little better, but Wisconsin has dismantled some really good teams this year," said American coach Mike Brennan. "They're No. 2 seed for a reason."
Four of Wisconsin's five starters shot 45 percent or better, and the balance was evident at the start of the second half. After Kaminsky started the half with two free throws, Dekker scored five straight points, Nigel Hayes hit two straight jumpers and Brust hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, all the while American managed only one free throw.
Wisconsin also outscored American 28-10 in the paint, 8-0 on second-chance points and 14-0 off the bench.
"I think this win lets us know that we still have the defense that we had earlier in the season," said Hayes. "We know that we are capable of playing defense and we wouldn't expect us but a performance like this. It's a great motivational thing to know that if we can continue to play like this, we can keep winning."
That would be much to the delight of the Wisconsin fans who showed up droves to give the Badgers an overwhelming home court advantage.
"It was great," said Jackson. "We knew coming in we would have a lot of fans there. But at the end of the day, (it) really didn't matter because this is an away game still for us. Even if we were a home game, we're still playing basketball. We had to come ready to play. And I thought they helped us out a lot and we executed well."