LINCOLN, Neb. - Even championship-caliber teams have a game where everything doesn’t click to perfection.
The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team has rolled through the first half of Big Ten conference play with relative ease, but found its offense sputtering through stretches of the second half and a desperate Nebraska team starting to make a charge.
Considering how it ended, it was a game that will build some team strength that will pay dividends in next month’s tournaments.
Despite looked lethargic on both ends of the court for long stretches in the second half, No.5 Wisconsin managed to avoid major trouble and outlast Nebraska, 65-55, at Pinnacle Bank Arena Tuesday.
“We had to work for everything we got,” said assistant coach Gary Close. “Sometimes you’ve got to win games like that on the road. You’ve just got to find a way, grind it out and make some plays.”
Junior forward Sam Dekker made the majority of the plays for Wisconsin (22-2, 10-1 Big Ten), scoring a season-high 21 points – 13 in the first half - on 8-for-13 shooting. Not only did Dekker tie his career high, he also added eight rebounds.
“He played solid,” Close said of Dekker. “He’s coming. He’s getting himself moving and playing well, and that’s a good sign.”
Senior Frank Kaminsky registered his ninth double-double of the season with 13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks, and sophomore Bronson Koenig also chipped in with 13 points, including going 5-for-6 from the line.
The win – the program’s seventh straight – gives Wisconsin a winning conference record for the 15th straight season and extends its Big Ten lead to three full games with seven to go. None of the five Big Ten teams tied in second place are waving the white surrender flag, but nobody would blame them if they did.
Since losing 67-62 to Rutgers on Jan. 11, the Badgers haven’t trailed by more than four points and have only trailed for 12:39 of a possible 285 minutes during that stretch
It looked like another runaway late in the second half. Up 15 points with 3:45 to go, Wisconsin finally saw Nebraska (13-11, 5-7) makes its run with an 8-0 spurt that finally got its stagnate crowd back into the game.
The lead shrunk to as little as five with 1:04 remaining, but the Badgers, who went the last 4:53 without a field goal and shot just 6-for-17 in the second half, went 24-for-31 from the free throw line, including 15-for-18 over that final 3:45.
That production neutralized a Huskers team that scored on 11 of its final 17 possessions and made the Badgers feel a lot better about their 39.1 shooting percent – the second straight game UW has shot under 40 percent.
“I liked the way we stayed the course at the end,” said UW coach Bo Ryan.
“This is an elite champion type of team,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles. “We did a lot of things to do them, and they made a lot of right decision. They didn’t make many mistakes.”
How good are the Huskers at home? In their first six Big Ten home games, the Cornhuskers averaged 65.0 points per game, shot 46.8 percent overall and 35.5 percent from 3-point range. UW held them to 35.5 percent and 22.2 percent in the latter two categories, as Nebraska’s shooting woes continued.
Held under 20 points in the first half for the fourth time in the last five games, the Huskers shot 6-for-28 from the floor, missed 10 consecutive field goals at one point and saw Petteway – the Huskers’ leading scorer – held to five points on 2-for-11 shooting.
Nebraska managed only 13 points on those six made field goals, the exact same scoring line as Dekker in the first 20 minutes, and never fully recovered.
“I thought defensively we were really good, especially in the first half,” said Close. “We got ourselves a little bit of a lead and held on.”
The same could be said for Wisconsin in the conference standings, although the Badgers appear to have a stranglehold on what would be their first conference championship in seven years.