Wisconsin looks to push its winning streak to six when it hosts Nebraska tonight

Looking to continue carrying forth its momentum from the past three weeks, Wisconsin hosts a wounded Nebraska team tonight at the Kohl Center. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

Nebraska (13-11, 5-6 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (14-9, 6-4 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Wednesday, February 10, 6 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – Big Ten Network (Jeff Levering and Stephen Bardo)

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Series tied 11-11 (Wisconsin leads 6-2 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 65-55, on February 10, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb.

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.5 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 17.1 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 12.3 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.4 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 8.6 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

5 Aaron Moesch (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 0.4 ppg)

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 3.0 ppg)

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.1 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.0 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.8 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Registering six points and six rebounds off the bench in Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State, Illikainen is averaging 3.6 points in 16.3 minutes under head coach Greg Gard. In 12 games under former head coach Bo Ryan, Illikainen was averaging 1.8 ppg in 4.8 minutes.

NEBRASKA PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Andrew White III (6-7 Junior Guard, 17.2 ppg)

5 Glynn Watson Jr. (6-0 Freshman Guard, 8.6 ppg)

10 Jack McVeigh (6-8 Freshman Forward, 4.9 ppg)

12 Michael Jacobson (6-8 Freshman Forward, 4.5 ppg)

32 Benny Parker (5-9 Senior Guard, 4.7 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 Tai Webster (6-4 Junior Guard, 10.0 ppg)

24 Jake Hammond (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 2.3 ppg)

30 Ed Morrow (6-7 Freshman Forward, 3.8 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Following his career-high nine assists on Saturday, Watson Jr. is now two assists away from 10th place on NU’s freshman assist list. Watson is also one steal away from fifth place on NU’s freshman steals chart.

LAST TIME OUT

MADISON – Shaking off a seemingly season-long battle from the perimeter for at least one night, Wisconsin drained a season-high 13 3-pointers in a 79-68 victory over the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center Thursday night.

“We believe in our shooters,” said Nigel Hayes, who scored 18 of his team-high 21 points in the second half. “We know that they can make shots. We were 13 of 27 (from 3-point range). We’ll always take that if they continue to double in the post.”

The winning streak is now a season-high five for the Badgers, who continue to add critical conference wins to improve a once fleeting N.C.A.A. tournament resume. And while the Badgers had created their winning streak with low-post presence, defense and creating free throw opportunities, UW had been winning while largely misfiring from 3-point range.

Wisconsin had shot under 35 percent from 3-point range 12 times this year, including a season-worst 2-for-14 Sunday at Illinois, and never made more than eight 3-pointers, a reason the Badgers entered the night 11th in the conference at 33.3 percent.

Not only did the Badgers hit a season high from behind the arc, the Badgers got at least one 3-pointer from seven different players and had 15 assists on 28 field goals. And they needed every bit of them considering they went 10-for-17 from the free throw line, were outscored 32-24 in the paint and gave up 19 points off their 11 turnovers.

“They continue to battle and find a way,” said head coach Greg Gard. “The obvious stat is the ability to make 13 threes, but to be able to adjust to some things and get better defensively for the most part as the game went on was key.”

Every major turning point for Wisconsin could be traced back to a 3-pointer. Squandering an 11-0 lead to open the game, Bronson Koenig (13 points) hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to erase the 22-21 Ohio State lead it held for 26 seconds – the only lead the Buckeyes (14-10, 6-5) had all game.

Ethan Happ’s 12 points didn’t include a 3-point attempt, but his extra effort – diving on the floor for a loose ball to swat the pass to an open Zak Showalter – gave UW a 44-37 lead early in the second half. Happ added five rebounds and three assists.

Alex Illikainen and Jordan Hill were a combined 5-for-7 from the perimeter off the bench and each hit a critical shot in the final 10 minutes. Off an assist from Ohio native Khalil Iverson, Illikainen hit a 3-pointer from the elbow to put UW up 62-50 – its biggest lead of the game - with 9:25 to go.

After Ohio State made what ended up being its final push, Hill hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with seconds left on the shot clock to give UW a 73-65 lead with 1:39 to go. Hill went 3-for-4 from 3-point range for his nine points and added five rebounds in his 17 minutes.

Finishing with a Big Ten career-high 12 points, Vitto Brown iced the game for Wisconsin when he hit a deep jumper with two seconds on the shot clock with 56 seconds left. That gave UW a 77-68 lead and started a 6-0 run to end the game.

LAST MEETING

LINCOLN, Neb. - 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.

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.

Frank Kaminsky registered his ninth double-double of the season with 13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks, and Bronson Koenig also chipped in with 13 points, including going 5-for-6 from the line.

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.

SERIES NOTES

The Badgers have won six of the seven meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011.

In the two meetings last year the Badgers went a combined 41-for-54 at the free throw line while the Huskers were just 15-for-24.

Nebraska has scored more than 55 points against Wisconsin just once since joining the Big Ten. That came in a 77-68 NU win in Lincoln in 2014. In fact, the Huskers have averaged a mere 51.3 ppg against the Badgers in that span.

WISCONSIN NOTES

The Badgers’ five home losses have come by a combined 14 points (2.8 avg.). In each of the defeats, UW was either tied or within one score in the final 2:00. In fact, the Badgers had a game-winning/tying shot attempt in the closing seconds of 3 of the losses.

Since 2000, Hayes is one of just 4 Badgers to post multiple 30-point games in one season, joining Devin Harris (3 in 2004), Jordan Taylor (2 in 2011) and Kirk Penney in 2002).

Hayes is one of just 3 major conference players averaging at least 17.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.5 apg, joining Denzel Valentine (Michigan State) and Ben Simmons (LSU).

Koenig has made at least one 3-pointer in 34 consecutive games, which ranks as the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. Koenig has hit multiple triples in 26 of those contests, including 19 of 23 games this season.

NEBRASKA NOTES

Nine of the Huskers’ 11 losses have come to teams currently rated in the top 50 in the KenPom rankings, including four to teams in the top 15. In fact, five of NU’s losses are to teams in the top-12 of this week’s AP poll.

Nebraska’s 75.0 ppg in Big Ten play is not only an 18-point improvement on NU’s conference scoring average (57.1 ppg), but is the first time NU has averaged at least 70 points in conference action since the 2001-02 campaign. Nebraska is also the only team in the conference to raise its scoring average in Big Ten play compared to non-conference action.

Webster averaged 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in his first two seasons but has emerged into one of the Big Ten’s best sixth men as a junior, averaging 10.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range.

The Huskers feature one player from Wisconsin in sophomore guard/forward Nick Fuller (Sun Prairie). Fuller, who has appeared in 18 games, had two points and three rebounds in a season-high 18 minutes against Rutgers on Saturday, his first action since Jan. 12.

PREDICTION

Over the last few weeks, there are seemingly few things that Nigel Hayes can do wrong for the University of Wisconsin.

Starting to play up to the lofty preseason expectations placed on him, including All-American and All-Big Ten status, Hayes is one of just three major conference players averaging at least 17.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.5 apg. He is sixth in the B1G in scoring at 17.1 ppg, but has averaged 21.8 ppg over UW’s five game winning streak.

But as he found out on Friday night, he’s a really lousy bowler.

“I scored a 65 in the first game and a 70 in the second game,” said Hayes. “But if you look at, I’m trending upwards.”

A night after UW pushed its winning streak to five, and after getting clearance from compliance, Gard arranged for the Badgers to take a little team-bonding trip filled with pizza, snacks, bowling and, naturally, competition.

“We had four teams divided up by their birthday month,” said Gard. “The team of Aaron Moesch, Khalil Iverson, Andy Van Vliet and (Ethan Happ) that team won it … That team was stacked for whatever reason…It was fun to watch them interact, and they took it serious; they went after each other.”

The team chemistry on last year’s squad is impossible to replicate, a close-knit veteran squad that was serious off the court and nowhere near serious off it. That togetherness – along with being darn good basketball players – was a big reason the Badgers won 36 games and made it to the national finals.

This year’s team started out as a complete 180 from that but UW has slowly started to build that bond since October. The results are evident over conference play, as the Badgers are shooting .32 percentage points higher from the field, forcing 2.1 more turnovers per game, committing 1.3 fewer turnovers and seeing a reduction in opponent’s points, offensive rebounds and free throw attempts per game.

It’ll be interesting to see how those numbers fall tonight against a Nebraska team without its best player. After his nasty-looking fall on Saturday in the win over Rutgers, Shavon Shields (15.7 ppg) lost consciousness for a minute, was hospitalized overnight for observation and did not travel to Madison as he goes through the concussion protocol, making the Huskers’ already thin bunch even thinner.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles said his team doesn’t “need a hero” to try to replace Shields’ numbers. With the way Wisconsin is playing, Miles needs something extra to happen. White III has become one of the Big Ten’s top newcomers, coming in fifth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.2 points per game and 14th in rebounding (6.1 rpg), but you have to think the Badgers will give him even more attention now that Shields is out of the lineup.

Nebraska has been in every one of its conference losses, losing by no more than 13 points and playing Maryland tough at home and Iowa and Purdue on the road. On the same account, other than the win at East Lansing, Nebraska has won every game it’s supposed to and lost every one it’s supposed to.

Nebraska is supposed to lose tonight and they should without one of its key leaders against a red-hot Wisconsin team. Badgers by 14.

Worgull's Record: 17-6

Points off Prediction: 207 (9.0 per game)


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