Wisconsin continued to roll through Nebraska in conference openers, effectively ripping the title of "Big Red" away from Nebraska for 2011 by virtue of a two-sport sweep. For the twelfth time in 14 games, the Badger men's basketball team held its opponent to a season-low in points by battering the Cornhuskers, 64-40, in Lincoln on Tuesday night.
Though the location was different for hoops, the outcome was oddly similar to when these two schools met on the gridiron in Madison. Much like the football game in October, Nebraska (8-4, 0-1 Big Ten) ran out to an early 7-0 lead only to see the Badgers (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) turn the game into a second half blowout to spoil the Huskers' conference debut.
Wisconsin came into the game surrendering only 44 points-per-game and improved on that mark on the road against the injury-riddled Cornhuskers. Bo Ryan called his team's defensive performance the best of the season.
Ryan Evans was the driving force offensively. The junior forward hit his first six shots en route to a career-high 22 points, finishing 9-of-11 on field goals. The combination of Evans and a hot start by Jordan Taylor (nine first-half points) was too much for an ice-cold Husker squad to absorb.
The Cornhuskers were held to 30% field goal shooting and an even more abysmal 3-for-13 behind the arc. Jared Berggren had two more steals and two blocked shots.
Meanwhile, UW was enjoying a shooting renaissance of sorts. Nebraska learned the hard way that you do not leave Wisconsin big men open the same way you can against other teams. Berggren hit two wide open 3-pointers in the first half as part of a great shooting night for the Badgers. Wisconsin hit 24-of-47 (51%) from the field, including 11-of-21 (52%) on 3-pointers. That's hot fire.
Senior point guard Bo Spencer, the LSU transfer who is Nebraska's leading scorer, struggled all night. Though Josh Gasser had a few mental errors on the night, he was able to keep Spencer off balance and hold him to five points on 2-of-12 shooting.
Toney McCray's stroke looked great early for the Huskers. While Wisconsin struggled to ease into it's offense, McCray scored eight quick points to give the Huskers a 10-5 lead four minutes in the the game. McCray finished well above his scoring average with a team-high 16 points.
However, Wisconsin would clamp down during the 19-2 run that followed, with McCray adding the Huskers' only bucket. Behind Taylor and a flurry of 3-pointers, the Badgers took control.
The pattern of Badger 3-pointers leading to big runs repeated in the second half. After Nebraska pulled within five points at 33-28 after the break, treys by Taylor, Evans and Gasser provoked a timeout by NU coach Doc Sadler. That mini-run was a part of a larger 27-7 run that iced the game over a 14-minute stretch. Showing its versatility, Wisconsin did most of the damage during the spurt with Berggren stuck on the bench with three fouls.
One concerning aspect was how slow the Badgers appeared to be to loose balls. Wisconsin looked lethargic in general at times, typified by several combinations of lazy passes and lazy efforts to receive passes that resulted in some of the Nebraska's easiest buckets. Gasser played the passer's role in several of these sequences, including one conspicuous instance right before halftime.
Luckily for UW, the same energy that allowed Nebraska to be quicker to loose balls seemed to be a hindrance to its offense. The Cornhuskers seemed to rush many of their layups and easy shots near the hoop once they got a step on Badger defenders. Though Wisconsin stuck to its defensive principles against the less talented Huskers, several of Nebraska's misfires were simply botched gimmes.
Taylor appeared to find his shooting touch from deep (3-of-6) in this contest, but still missed four of his six 2-pointers. He created a couple of nice opportunities in the lane but could not finish. Taylor added five assists and three steals to his 15 points.
Wisconsin has now won its last nine Big Ten openers by an average margin of 18 points.
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