This was no longer a challenge; this was a massacre and the Badgers were being marred with Duke Black and Blue.
For two teams that appeared quite similar on paper, Duke's agility, speed and perimeter shooting out-matched Wisconsin's height and defensive advantages, as the host Blue Devils stayed a perfect 9-0 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, routing the previously unbeaten Badgers 82-58 in front of a sellout crowd of 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The 24-point loss was the biggest regular-season loss under head coach Bo Ryan since January 2002.
Coming out flat three days ago against Georgia, a team with a similar complexion as the Blue Devils, the Badgers played nearly the same tune – a slow start that was coupled with poor shooting, sloppy ball handling and the incapability of hitting a perimeter shot.
In a sense of déjà vu, sophomore Trevon Hughes scores the game's opening points on a three-pointer, giving Wisconsin its first – and only - lead. From there on out, the Cameron Crazies clamped down on Wisconsin.
Wisconsin shot 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) from the perimeter, got to the foul line only six times (making three) and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic nine times in the first half, leading to 14 Duke points.
Unlike last Saturday, when the Badgers (5-1) were able to corral the Bulldogs due to stellar defensive pressure and chip their way back into the game, Duke (7-0) attacked the undefended perimeter consistently and relentlessly, going for the jugular every and often.
Duke shot 56 percent (9-for-16) from three-point range in the first half with junior Greg Paulus and freshman Taylor King delivering uncontested bucket after bucket. The duo combined to make 7-of-10 threes and 25 first-half points, helping Duke build a first-half lead that swelled to 25 at it's largest.
Paulus finished with a game-high 18 and King with 15, as they were two of five Blue Devils to score double-digits.
"If anything could go wrong, it did," Ryan said. "We dug ourselves a hole and in the second half, things look kind of even on the sheet. When you're playing down in a hole like that, it's almost impossible in a place like this to come back."
If the hot hands of the Duke backcourt weren't enough, the Blue Devils were the more aggressive and fundamentally sound team, a phrase not often associated with Badger teams under Ryan. Duke was able to utilize the fast-paced offense to its benefit, forcing the taller Badgers to play on their heels, ultimately leading to 17 fast-break points.
The biggest surprise was the aggressiveness, or lack of, for the Badgers. Consistently making more free throws then its opponents from the foul line, it was Duke that attacked the paint and got to the foul line, making 19 free throws compared to the Badgers 13 attempts.
Wisconsin entered the game plus 16.6 in rebounding (tops in the Big Ten) and finished the game only plus two in rebounds (42-40) against a Duke lineup that averages 6-foot-5, nearly two and one half inches shorter than the Badgers.
"(Rebounding) was a big key for us because we really wanted to get out and run, so the only way we could do that was by making stops and getting rebounds," said sophomore Jon Scheyer, who led Duke with nine rebounds. "The guards especially had to get in there because they're such a big team inside. We did a good job of that tonight."
Sophomore Trevon Hughes struggled early at the point for the second-consecutive game. Just like against Georgia, Hughes made his first bucket and nothing else, going 1-for-8 for three points in the first 20 minutes. The Badger point guard finished with a team-high 12 points, the fifth time he's led UW in scoring.
What really hurt Hughes and Wisconsin, however, was when he was whistled for two fouls in the first five minutes of the game. Wisconsin had five empty possessions with Hughes out of the lineup, seeing the Duke lead swell to 11, forcing Ryan to call a 30-second timeout and inserting Hughes back onto the floor.
"Because of the job he's been doing handling the ball and getting us into our offense, there's no question that if effects us," Ryan said. "In games (like this), you got to figure out a way to get things done."
But by then, the damage had already been done. Although playing its fifth game in nine days, Duke didn't look like a team tired and worn out from a cross-country flight the week before. From the opening whistle, the Blue Devils pressured the Badgers from end line to end line, forcing UW to play Duke's brand of basketball all evening.
"We made them play full court, and nobody has made them do that this year," Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "That was a big advantage for us, not that we caused a lot of turnovers, but it just pushed their offense out a little bit more."
Once Wisconsin adjusted in the second half, the Badgers played the better game. Wisconsin shot just below 44 percent, increased its scoring output by eight and played its style of basketball. But with the Badgers down by at least eight possessions throughout the half, it was too little, too late.
"We moved the ball so much better on our cuts, we touched the post and those are things we got away from in the first half," Ryan said. "They (Duke) had a lot to do with that."