An ugly start for Wisconsin’s offense was exactly what Nebraska wanted, as the Huskers’ 2-3 zone – used primarily because they were without second-leading scorer Shavon Shields – forced some spotty play from the Badgers. Over the first 8:15, Wisconsin had more turnovers (four) than field goals (two).
The lethargic play Wisconsin displayed early finally turned a corner following Greg Gard’s timeout with his team down 13-7. Over the final 11:45 of the half, Wisconsin shot 9-for-13 to take a four-point lead into the locker room. The reason the lead was only four was the Badgers couldn’t solve their turnover issues. UW committed seven of its 11 turnovers in the first half, including three off of traveling violations. The 11 miscues (UW’s fourth straight game with 10+ turnovers) led to eight Nebraska points.
Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin’s offensive charge in the first half, combining to score 22 of UW’s points on 8-for-12 shooting. Brown led the two with 12 points in the half and finished the game with a career-high 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field.
Four players in total scored in double figures for Wisconsin, as Hayes led the Badgers with 20 points (his eighth 20-point game of the season). Bronson Koenig finished with 12 points and Zak Showalter scored all 10 of his points in the second half. Their performances picked up Ethan Happ, who finished with two points and didn’t make a field goal for the first time all season. Overall Wisconsin shot 22-for-43 (51.2 percent) from the field and 11-for-18 (61.1 percent) from 3-point range.
Nebraska’s zone prevented Wisconsin from finding consistent success in the paint, scoring only eight points in the lane in each half. While UW was able to use its post touches to register kick outs for 3-point attempts and get to the free throw line (17-for-28), second-chance opportunities were hit and miss. After registering one offensive rebound in the first half, UW grabbed six in the second half, translating all its second-chance opportunities into seven points.
Andrew White entered the game fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (17.2 points per game), but with Shields missing the game due to a concussion, Wisconsin was able to pay more attention to White and make someone else on Nebraska’s offense beat them.
The game plan worked with Hayes able to play strong defense against White throughout the game and hold him to 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting. Glynn Watson Jr. picked up the slack with 16 points but needed 14 shots from the field. Tai Webster (4-for-11), Benny Parker (3-for-7) and Jack McVeigh (3-for-7) also struggled from the field, resulting in Nebraska shooting 24-for-59 (40.7 percent).
Wisconsin’s defense never allowed Nebraska to get into a comfortable rhythm on offense and a lot of times forced the Huskers into poor looks at the basket. With Wisconsin making its run in the first half to reclaim the lead, the Badgers relied on their defense to hold Nebraska without a field goal for 4:05.
The only area where Nebraska had success was attacking the rim, scoring 14 of its 24 points in the paint in the second half and turning 14 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. Nebraska won the rebounding battle 33-28.
Despite Nebraska’s low-post success, the Badgers forced 10 turnovers. UW created four steals, but Hayes failed to register a steal for the first time since the Milwaukee game. Overall the Badgers finished the game with 14 points off of Nebraska’s turnovers.
Once Wisconsin figured out how to break Nebraska’s 2-3 zone, the Badgers ran with a lot more consistency. In particular, Wisconsin started to consistently knock down 3-point attempts. For the second straight game the Badgers made over 10 of their attempts, finishing the game 11-for-18 (61.1 percent).
Five different Badgers registered a three, and Brown and Koenig tied for a team high three 3-pointers. It was Koenig’s 35th game in a row with a made 3-pointer, bringing him without four games of Sean Mason’s school record.
In fact, Wisconsin became so comfortable from 3-point range that 18 of the team’s first 21 points in the second half came from the perimeter. UW started the second half shooting 6-for-9 from 3-point range compared to shooting 0-for-4 from inside the arc. The first made two point field goal didn’t come until the 9:38 mark when Brown was able to finish a one handed dunk from an assist by Alex Illikainen.
The Badgers got 10 points from its bench with Jordan Hill leading the way with seven in 27 minutes. Illikainen scored the other three and provided a nice spark in the second half after looking lost in the first half. Struggling with his defense and awareness in the first 20 minutes, Illikainen was more poised defense and consistently keep possessions alive on offense with tip outs or offensive rebounds. He led Wisconsin with two offensive rebounds and he finished tied for the lead with five rebounds.
Game MVP: Vitto Brown. The junior continued his strong play by finding a rhythm early during a first half where Nebraska was bringing more energy. Brown’s 12 first-half points tied his career high in Big Ten play and the most he scored in a single half this season. Brown also finished the game with five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal in 34 minutes of work.