MADISON, Wis. - After a rough few opening minutes, it started to rain in the Kohl Center. Not with water, but with three-point baskets. The No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers (20-7, 9-5 Big Ten) shot 11-of-22 from downtown in a 65-55 win over Penn State (12-16, 4-11), giving them a big enough edge to sink the Nittany Lions despite a big run in the second half. Sophomore guard Josh Gasser led the way for the Badgers with 15 points on 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc, and junior forward Ryan Evans barely missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
The opening minutes of Wisconsin's game against Penn State Sunday weren't pretty to watch, and could easily have made fans recall the Badgers' 36-33 loss to the Nittany Lions in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament. The two teams went the first two and a half minutes without scoring before Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor hit a three-point shot, giving the Badgers a lead they would hold for the rest of the game.
Kicked off by Taylor, three-point shooting ended up ruling the day for the Badgers. Leading just 12-9, the Badgers sank five three-point shots in a row, including back-to-back-to-back threes from Gasser, extending their lead to 14 points.
"Well (Gasser) was open, and he's never been told not to shoot when he's open," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said after the game. "And he has a different trigger than some guys. He found himself in position to make some things happen."
On the strength of their perimeter game, the Badgers took a 14-point lead into halftime shooting 48.7 percent from the floor, compared to Penn State's 30.5 percent mark. But that doesn't mean the game was easy for the Badgers -- far from it, in fact.
Trailing 49-29, the Lions went on a 13-0 run to cut Wisconsin's lead to just seven points. Over the course of the next few minutes, the Lions whittled away at the Badgers' lead, eventually coming to within five points of the Badgers and threatening to pull off the upset.
Needing to stop the Lions' momentum, Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren hit two key three-pointers, effectively ending Penn State's rally. Lions' head coach Patrick Chambers said Berggren's two three-pointers hurts more than the Badgers' first half trey barrage.
"Honestly, you expect that from a Bo Ryan Wisconsin-type team, especially in the first half," Chambers said in a post game press conference. "But the ones that killed you were in the second half. (Jared) Berggren, those two threes he hit were to me the difference ... they were daggers."
It certainly helped that all of the Badgers' starters found ways to score on Sunday afternoon. In addition to Gasser and Evans, Taylor and Berggren combined for 24 points, and junior forward Mike Bruesewitz had 7 points to go with 12 rebounds.
"Anytime you can have multiple weapons out there, it's going to help your team," Gasser said. "Everyone's got to contribute and be aggressive."
Getting more production from the starters would be a big development for the Badgers, who have often relied too much on Taylor to score in crunch time. The emergence of other offensive weapons bodes well for the Badgers, who have just four Big Ten games left before the start of tournament season in March. If they want to head into the Big Ten Tournament with a head of steam, it certainly wouldn't hurt to see more shots fall like they did on Sunday afternoon.
"When shots are falling everything seems to be going a little bit better," Gasser said. "Any time you can knock down a few you're going to be a little more aggressive going forward."