Breakdown: No.5 Wisconsin vs. Nebraska

Playing five of its final eight conference games on the road, No.5 Wisconsin takes on a desperate Nebraska team tonight in Lincoln. BadgerNation takes a closer look at Nebraska's struggles and breaks down the matchup.

No.5 Wisconsin (21-2, 9-1 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (13-10, 5-6 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Tuesday, February 10, 8 p.m. Central

Arena –Pinnacle Bank Arena (15,000)

Television -ESPN (Mike Tirico, Dan Dakich and Sam Ponder)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Nebraska leads 11-10 (Nebraska leads 7-3 in Lincoln)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 70-55, on January 16, 2015 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 12.5 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 12.8 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 7.6 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 6.9 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 17.5 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 2.7 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 5.6 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 2.5 ppg)

Nebraska Probable Starters

2 David Rivers (6-7 Senior Forward, 4.5 ppg)

3 Benny Parker (5-9 Junior Guard, 5.2 ppg)

5 Terran Petteway (6-6 Junior Guard, 18.7 ppg)

31 Shavon Shields (6-7 Junior Guard, 15.9 ppg)

35 Walter Pitchford (6-10 Junior Forward, 7.0 ppg)

Off the Bench

0 Tai Webster (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 4.2 ppg)

11 Tarin Smith (6-2 Freshman Guard, 4.3 ppg)

21 Leslee Smith (6-8 Senior Forward, 2.9 ppg)

Last Meeting

MADISON - Returning to the lineup after a one game absence, center Frank Kaminsky added a couple moves to his repertoire that helped ignite an offense that struggled without him to get by Nebraska 70-55, Thursday night.

Kaminsky scored a team-high 22 points – making him the 40th player in school history to go over 1,000 points for his career- and added five rebounds for Wisconsin (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten), which remained one of five Big Ten teams with just one loss in the early weeks of the season.

Nigel Hayes scored 13 points, Sam Dekker scored 7 of his 11 in the second half and Bronson Koenig, filling in for the first time for injured guard Traevon Jackson, added 11 points for back-to-back double-digit scoring nights in his first two starts. Duje Dukan also chipped in with all 10 of UW’s bench points

But the story of the night was Kaminsky, who has shown in the past week just how valuable he is to Wisconsin’s game plan. After lingering symptoms from a concussion sustained Jan.7 in a win against Purdue caused him to his first game in two years, Wisconsin’s shooting percentage and post defense dipped in a 67-62 loss at Rutgers.

Cleared for practice Tuesday, Kaminsky’s presence was evident against the Cornhuskeres (10-7, 2-3) from the get go. He was 6-for-7 from the floor and 3-for-4 from the perimeter in the first half, helping Wisconsin do damage from the interior (UW was 9-for-11 on 2-point shots) and the perimeter (6-for-13).

The senior scored early (eight points in the first eight-plus minutes) and impacted the game late, helping Wisconsin close the first half on a 9-0 run by splashing a 3-pointer and hitting a contested two in the paint.

“Beating a team like Nebraska the way we did is pretty positive and that will give us some confidence going forward,” said Kaminsky. “Bronson stepped up and played really well and ran the offensive very well. We’re excited about the opportunity that we have in front of us.”

Without Kaminsky in the lineup Sunday, the Badgers shot 42.9 percent, including just 37.5 percent in the second-half collapse to the Scarlet Knights.

With the senior back, the Badgers shot 62.5 percent from the floor and 48.4 percent for the game against a Nebraska team that entered the night holding opponents to 37.7 percent shooting from the floor.

Nebraska stayed close in the first half thanks in large part to Petteway, who torched Wisconsin for 26 points in the Huskers’ 77-68 win last season in Lincoln and was doing so again. Petteway had 20 first-half points on 13 shots, including going 4-for-8 from 3-point range.

In the second half Petteway tried to generate more offense among his teammates, which backfired when he was limited to only seven points on seven shots.

With Petteway neutralized, Wisconsin went on a 13-0 run highlighted by a four-play play from Dukan and a 3-pointer from Dekker that caused him to unleash a vibrant scream as soon as the ball passed through the net. That duo combined for 11 points on the run, the final nine coming with Kaminsky on the bench.

The run eventually ballooned to 22-4 thanks to an 8 minute, 59 second field goal drought by the Huskers, who didn’t get any other player above eight points. That included Wisconsin taking away Shields, who finished with only eight points after he dumped 26 points on the Badgers last year.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Last Time Out

MADISON - Wisconsin did not shoot the lights out, but the balance the Badgers displayed was too much for Northwestern to defend in a 65-50 UW victory Saturday at the Kohl Center.

Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig scored 16 points to lead the four players in double figures for the Badgers (21-2, 9-1 Big Ten), which begin the second half of Big Ten play with a two-game lead over Maryland after winning six straight and 14 of their last 15.

And while the final score looks ugly, there were plenty of bright spots to pick up among the mess.

Making his 127th career start, breaking a tie with Alando Tucker for most in school history, senior Josh Gasser grabbed a season-high nine rebounds (seven in the first half) while adding eight points, three assists and no turnovers.

Koenig’s point total set a career high for a second straight game and he did most of his damage by going 4-for-8 from 3-point range. Since being inserted in the starting lineup, Koenig is 18-for-34 (52.9 percent) from the perimeter.

“He didn't force any shots,” UW coach Bo Ryan said of Koenig. “I thought he hit some big 3s as we were moving the ball. You have to take what the defense gives you and if they’re going to pinch everything and try to keep the ball out of the middle of that zone, you have to knock some outside shots down. He hit some big ones for us. He didn’t panic out there.”

Dekker scored 11 of his points in the first half as Wisconsin led by as many as 18. In five career games against Northwestern, Dekker has scored in double figures each time.

Wisconsin finished at only 38.9 percent but accomplished its game plan by finishing near 1.2 points per possession to equal the 2006-07 team for the best 23-game start in program history.

“It’s a testament to our shooting ability,” said forward Nigel Hayes (11 points, 8 rebounds). “We work hard on that during practice, at the end of practice, and it’s great to see that. It doesn’t look like it was 1.2, the way we moved the ball, share the ball with one another and get open shots shows a very unselfish team that’s capable of knowing down shots.”

Losers of nine straight, including the first five by a combined 17 points, Northwestern (10-13, 1-9) tried throwing a 2-3 zone at Wisconsin. When that didn’t work the Wildcats went back to man-to-man. When that didn’t work either, allowing the Badgers to open the game on a 19-4 run, Collins didn’t have to worry about his team processing another close conference loss.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

The Badgers have won 5 of the 6 meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. The Badgers’ only loss to Nebraska since the Huskers joined the Big Ten came in last season’s trip to Lincoln.

Last season’s 77-68 Nebraska win was only time in six meetings that the Huskers have scored more than 55 points against a Bo Ryan-led team.

Wisconsin Notes

UW is one win from clinching a winning Big Ten record for the 15th straight season. Among major conf. teams, only Kansas (25) has a longer streak.

Over the last 20 seasons, a Big Ten team has started 21-2 or better just 6 times. UW is the only school to do it twice.

In six starts at point guard, Koenig has averaged 12.7 ppg, shooting 16-for-30 (.533) on 3FGs. On the year, his 4.0 A/TO ratio is second in the NCAA (min. 30 assists).

Wisconsin leads the nation in fewest fouls (13.2 avg.), fewest turnovers (7.5 TOs avg.) and fewest opposing FTAs per game (12.5). The Badgers also rank 10th in NCAA in scoring D (56.5 ppg).

In program history, UW has started 10-1 or better in Big Ten play a total of 7 times, winning the conference title in six of those seasons.

Nebraska Notes

Nebraska’s 39.1 field goal percentage defense is third in the Big Ten entering this week, but is the Huskers’ best percentage since limiting opponents to 36.7 percent in the 1960-61 season.

The last time that Nebraska had two players average more than 15.0 points per game in a season was 1994-95 (Jaron Boone, 17.5; Erick Strickland, 16.3). That is the only time in the last 30 years that Nebraska has had two players average 15 points per game in the same season.

Nebraska is 13-2 against Big Ten teams at Pinnacle Bank Arena over the last two years with the two losses coming by a combined six points. That’s a .867 winning percentage. Nebraska beat Wisconsin in the regular season finale there last season.

Since returning to the court January 8, Leslee Smith is shooting 58 percent from the floor and has his 10 of his last 13 shots over the last six games.

The Huskers have enjoyed a second-half lead in six of their 10 losses and were within one possession in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime in five of those contests.

Prediction

Nigel Hayes didn’t sugarcoat it: getting wins in the Big Ten is nice, but getting them on the road is even sweeter, especially when they’ve come against a team Wisconsin has already dispatched.

“We know we’re going to get their best shot,” said Hayes.

The Badgers have been getting everyone’s best shot through 10 league games, yet are sitting in first place with a comfortable 2.5 game lead over four teams and a three game advantage in the loss column over six teams. Against that latter group, the Badgers are 4-0 with three more games to go.

A program known for defense, Wisconsin is overwhelming good conference teams and Big Ten rebuilding projects to become one of the nation’s most potent offenses. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Badgers rank No. 1 in offensive efficiency this season, averaging 124.9 points per 100 possessions. If the season ended today, UW’s 124.9 efficiency rating would be highest since Pomeroy began tracking the stat in 2002.

It’s the exact opposite that’s happening in Lincoln, as Nebraska head coach Tim Miles pointed to the execution, or lack thereof, of his team in scoring a season-low 43 points at Penn State Saturday. He was also perturbed by saying the Huskers had eight open shots that resulted in short misses, resulting in part of the Huskers shooting 29.4 percent from the field.

“I don’t think it’s the air conditioning,” said Miles.

Execution is missing for the Huskers, and Miles said it’s partly impatience of guys wanting so badly for things to happen that they’re forcing them to happen. Miles has had sophomore teams that have had new roles thrust upon them that have resulting in mental blocks. He’s had freshman teams that don’t know any better that had a lot of success – “blissful ignorance,” he called it – but never a team full of veterans like Nebraska has, especially one that went to the NCAA Tournament last year.

“And I think that’s the frustrating part,” said Miles.

Miles said he’s only had one team – a division 2 team – in his 20 years of coaching not make progress from the beginning of the season to the end. He challenged his players to not be his second team that stayed put.

“It’s time to quit pouting and quit crying,” he said. “They’re a good bunch, they work hard but they certainly don’t feel good about what we’ve done.”

Petteway’s numbers are similar to last season, but Nebraska has a handful of players whose numbers are really down and a number of players who Miles thought would step up that haven’t. And for a team that doesn’t make many of the few 3-point shots they attempt, it’s crushing to their efficiency.

That’s part of the reason Miles respects Wisconsin’s Ryan so much. Saying Ryan has built “a lasting winner” at Wisconsin, the Badgers have been able to mold their style to their personnel. Once heavy in the swing offense, UW has melded the last two years into a team that pushes tempo and attempts perimeter jump shots while still sticking to the basic fundamental principles of his program.

“We’d like to replicate,” said Miles. “These guys are like machines. These guys are like robots out there. You start looking at their numbers, their numbers don’t change. It’s ridiculous…They’ve got no one schmo out there.

“I truly feel like you have to outscore them, which is kind of creepy for me.”

Nebraska doesn’t have the firepower to compete with Wisconsin, and were beaten the first time because the Badgers delivered rhythm shots, their bigs drove right around them and the low post players had eight assists. The big difference this time is the game is in Lincoln (where Nebraska knocked off Wisconsin last year), and Miles said the Cornhuskers have nothing to lose in this game.

If the Badgers can pound on the Huskers early and let some self doubt creep in, Wisconsin wins by 13.

Worgull's Record: 21-2

Points off Prediction: 181 (7.9 per game)


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