BERKELEY, Calif. - That’ll teach media members to drop Wisconsin in the rankings.
Nine days and a plethora of final exams separated the Badgers from their decisive victory over Nicholls last weekend, a result that caused the Badgers to slip one spot to No.6 in the AP poll. If the layoff bothered them, Wisconsin hid it well.
Sophomore Nigel Hayes registered a double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Wisconsin’s frontcourt did the damage to help the Badgers add another impressive victory to its resume with a 68-56 victory over California at Haas Pavilion on Monday.
It’s the third true road victory for Wisconsin (11-1) and the sixth away from the Kohl Center this season, an impressive achievement for a team that has become quite comfortable winning away from home. Over the last two seasons, Wisconsin is 22-5 (.814) away from home, the most wins among major conference teams.
And this one on paper didn’t appear to be a walk in the park. Wisconsin had never won in Berkeley (0-3 entering the game) and rarely strayed far from home in the first game following finals. The Badgers hadn’t played their game away from campus following exams since 2003-04, hadn’t played a West Coast game immediately after finals since 1989 and hadn’t played a true West Coast road game since 2004.
None of that proved to be a problem thanks to Badger bigs Hayes, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, as the trio were the only three UW players to finish in double figures, combined for 45 points and secured 27 of UW’s 39 team rebounds.
It was a workmanlike win and Hayes was one of the toughest workers, finishing with his third double-double on the season while going 5-for-5 from the free throw line and committing only one turnover.
“Nigel Hayes had an even better game than his stat line indicates,” said UW coach Bo Ryan.
“Hayes was the difference,” added Cal coach Cuonzo Martin.
Shooting 43.6 percent for the game, Wisconsin shot 44.4 percent in the first half and shook off a 2-for-10 start to exert its will when California (10-2) started to press. Following a 6-0 Bears run to cut the lead to 17-16, Wisconsin closed the half with a 15-4 run over the final 7:10 complete with aggressive drives to the basket, getting to the free throw line and Josh Gasser diving on the floor multiple times for loose balls.
Five different players scored on the run, including a beautiful give-and-go between Hayes and Duje Dukan that ended with Dukan making an acrobatic layup and drew a foul for a three-point play.
For the game Wisconsin made 17 of 18 free throws (94.4 percent), committed only six turnovers and scored 32 points in the paint.
“When we had to, we got some inside baskets and got to the free throw line when they made some runs,” said UW assistant coach Gary Close. “I thought we reacted well to their punches.”
Sixteen of California’s 20 first-half points came from the paint, but the Badgers shutdown the paint in the second half (12) and made leading scorer Tyrone Wallace work for his points.
Wallace ended up scoring 17 points (but needed 16 shots to get there), and Jordan Mathews, who entered the game averaging 13 points, scored 15 in the final 12:28, including 11 in a row at one point. But the Badgers cut off the rest of Cal’s weapons, allowing them to dictate tempo and continued to build sizeable leads in the second half.
“We didn’t let some of those other guys really go crazy,” said Close.
Mathews tried to pull Cal back into the game when he orchestrated an 11-2 run to cut the Wisconsin leads to 44-36. Traevon Jackson promptly found Kaminsky open for 3-points at the top of the key, Dekker following with a jumper and Hayes canceled out a pair of Mathews free throws with a pretty up-and-under player that resulted in a 3-point play, giving UW a 52-38 lead with 7:52 remaining.
UW never trailed by less than 12 the rest of the game.
“If we’re hopefully going to compete for a Big Ten championship, we’re going to have to win some games on the road and this was a great environment to come into and see where we are at,” said Close. “In terms of the nonconference schedule, we really set it up well in terms of preparing ourselves for the league…Now we’ll see what we can do.”
Wisconsin closes the nonconference portion of its schedule at home against Buffalo at 7 p.m. CT Sunday.