There is no other way to put it but that was ugly for Wisconsin’s offense. The Badgers struggled to establish any rhythm at any point, as the Cornhuskers did a good job of consistently swarming Wisconsin and pressuring them.
It looked like Vitto Brown was going to be the lone Badger to have an efficient offensive game, as he scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half. But Brown couldn’t sustain that offensive rhythm over the last 20 minutes by not working hard enough to get open or gain separation from his defender, resulting in only two attempts from the field (both misses) and three free throws in the second half.
Ethan Happ went 5-for-11 with a team-leading 17 points but struggled finishing through the constant double teams and pressure that came down on him in the low post. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, but the two combined to shoot 5-for-27 from the field. Overall Wisconsin finished the game 16-for-53 (30.2 percent) from the field and shot 4-for-20 (20 percent) from three.
The one good thing Wisconsin’s offense did was draw fouls and get into the double bonus with 7:15 to go in the game. But even with the clock stopped the Badgers couldn’t always consistently cut into Nebraska’s lead. UW went 22-for-30 from the line (4-for-9 in the first half), as Happ (7-for-8) and Hayes (6-for-9) represented half of those attempts.
Wisconsin has had some poor shooting halves and games during the season, but Thursday was the first time this year Wisconsin made fewer than nine field goals in consecutive halves. The lack of balance was staggering: only two players made seven field goals in the first half and only four players made nine shots in the second half.
Outside of not being able to consistently get quality looks from the field, thanks to Nebraska’s swarming defense, the Badgers coughed up the ball 12 times, including five turnovers by Happ. Nebraska was able to convert the Badgers’ miscues into 12 points and register eight fast break points.
Like Wisconsin’s offense, the defense was rough all around and made it too easy for Nebraska’s offense. The Cornhuskers finished the game shooting 46.9 percent (23-for-49) from the field. In particular Wisconsin allowed Nebraska to get whatever they wanted in the second half, especially going toward the rim. After shooting 40 percent in the first half, Nebraska upped that number to 54.2 percent (13-for-24) in the second half.
Shavon Shields led the way scoring 11 of his game-high 20 points in the second half on 4-for-8 shooting (6-for-15 for the game). It was too often Wisconsin’s defense allowed Shields to find a driving lane and get to the basket. Glynn Watson Jr. was second on the team with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting off the bench, Benny Parker (12) and Andrew White (10) also reached double figures.
Shields being able to attack the rim against Wisconsin’s defense helped Nebraska score 30 points in the paint by himself doing the damage and opening up opportunities for his teammates to get easy looks at the rim. Registering high percentage shots down low didn’t just stop there, as the Badgers also allowed Nebraska to turn six offensive rebounds into six second-chance points. By winning virtually every 50-50 loose ball, Nebraska outrebounded Wisconsin, 38-33.
The Huskers also racked up the fouls against the Badgers, finishing the game 22-for-28 from the free throw line and 17-for-23 in the second half. Due to Wisconsin not being able to cut off Nebraska’s driving lanes, the Huskers didn’t have to settle for a lot of perimeter shots. The Huskers went 2-for-8 from 3-point range and White represented all the offense, going 2-for-5.
Despite Wisconsin forcing 12 turnovers, it didn’t seem to affect the rhythm the Cornhuskers established on offense from the start. Nebraska found ways of playing through the mistakes and took advantage of Wisconsin’s poor defense after halftime to usually find the best shot available. Wisconsin finished with seven steals and turned the 13 turnovers into 17 points.
Wisconsin was off on both ends from start to finish, as the team looked more like the one that went 1-4 starting Big Ten play than the one that finished 11-2. Wisconsin was sloppy on both ends of the floor, lacked energy, had poor communication and seemed confused as to what they were supposed to be doing.
Wisconsin’s big three of Koenig, Happ and Hayes combined to go 10-for-38 and 1-for-12 from 3-point range. The combination of Koenig and Hayes failed to make a field goal in the first half in the same game for the first time this year. That made it hard for the two team leaders to put the offense on their back. There was one stretch in the second half where Hayes scored eight of 12 points and another where Koenig scored seven straight points, but Nebraska never allowed Wisconsin to consistently string baskets together. Every time UW cut a 7-point deficit to one possession, the Huskers would go on a mini run themselves to negate what Wisconsin just did on offense.
After Koenig made a 3-pointer with 1:53 to go in the game, which cut the deficit to six, Wisconsin’s offense went 0-for-5 from the field and 1-for-2 from the free throw line the rest of the game.
Wisconsin did finish the game with nine assists on its 16 made field goals. Koenig led the way with four, but he wasn’t able to get the ball inside often. The Huskers were physical in the low post and brought pressures from different angles, two things that limited Wisconsin to 18 points in the paint (its fewest since Feb.13).
Wisconsin’s bench was also a nonfactor, contributing only two points and one rebound in a combined 20 minutes.
Game MVP: None. It is hard to find a MVP in a game like that. Brown had 16 points and eight rebounds but vanished after halftime. Happ had 17-7 but committed five turnovers and wasn’t strong enough in the lost post. Nobody else came close.