MADISON, Wis. -- Two years and four games into their new Big Ten rivalry with Wisconsin, the Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-15, 4-11 Big Ten) remain winless. The Badgers (20-8, 11-4) put Tuesday night's game at the Kohl Center to bed early, as a 19-2 first-half run led to a 44-23 first-half lead and set the stage for the 77-46 final score.
The 31-point blowout marks the Badgers' third consecutive 20-point victory, the first time they've accomplished the feat since the 1911-12 season.
Jared Berggren broke Rashard Griffith's blocks record with a swat on Brandon Ubel with 5:38 remaining in the first half; he finished with four on the night for a career total of 126, besting Griffith's 124. Ryan Evans scored 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and debuted his new jump-shooting free throw form to perfect results, hitting on both of his attempts. Sam Dekker was the game's real star, as he tied his career-high (set on Nov. 24 against Arkansas) with 19 points on lights-out 5-of-6 shooting (4-of-5 from three-point range, 5-of-6 from the free throw line).
Ben Brust added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-of-5 from three), his seventh straight contest with at least 10 points. Traevon Jackson finished with a game-high five assists to go with seven points (3-of-6 overall, 1-of-3 from three).
Wisconsin put together one of its best offensive performances of the season, with 77 points (a Big Ten season-high for the Badgers) on just 63 possessions. The unofficial 1.22 points-per-possession ranks seventh for the Badgers this season and third in Big Ten games, behind only the January 12 performance against Illinois and last Wednesday's against Northwestern. The squad shot 12-of-25 (48 percent) from three-point land; the Badgers' 62.3 percent effective field goal percentage was their best against a Big Ten team this season.
Nebraska's Dylan Talley scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-20 shooting (2-of-5 from three, 1-of-1 from the free throw line). Outside of Talley, however, Nebraska struggled to create or make shots. The Cornhuskers managed just six assists on 20 made shots (30 percent) and shot a horrible 32.8 percent from the field. Their unofficial 70.8 points per 100 possessions would be their fourth-worst of the season (second-worst in Big Ten play) and their 35.2 percent effective field goal percentage is their third-lowest of the year.
As usual, Jared Berggren's defense around the rim powered the overall defensive effort. Of his 126 career blocks, 115 have come in the last two seasons. But perhaps the best part of Berggren's record is his ability to rack up the blocks without fouling. Berggren committed just 3.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season and has knocked that rate down to just 2.2 per 40 minutes -- the 265th best rate in the country among players playing at least 40 percent of their team's minutes, despite his copious responsibilities around the rim.
Coach Bo Ryan praised Berggren's ability to alter shots without sending opponents to the free throw line:
"You know, it's not the blocks. It's the changes of shots and his intimidation and the fact that he's there. He doesn't intimidate because he has a bad haircut, he doesn't intimidate because he looks mean. He intimidates by his presence and his timing. It's not just the blocks."
"I've used an example 100 times here," Ryan continued. "We played a team at Platteville where the other team had three guys who tried to block every shot we took. We shot 29 percent but we made 30 free throws. So blocking shots can sometimes get you in trouble if the offensive player reads you the right way. Jared's forte is he gets those blocks without fouling. That is pretty good stuff."
But perhaps the biggest development for the Badgers going forward is Evans's new free throw form. Evans -- a 40.5 percent free throw shooter entering the game -- made both of his shots with the new jump-shot style, and it sounds like it will be here to stay.
"It worked tonight, so I'll keep it going," Evans said. "I think it might have been the first time this season I went 100 percent from the free throw line, so that's an accomplishment. It felt good. Like I've said before, it's a big part of my game, so I feel a lot more confident out there."
Evans actually made 2-of-2 free throws against Illinois on Jan. 12, 12 games ago, but forgetting that game is understandable.
Evans's 88.6 offensive rating -- an estimate of individual points produced per 100 possessions, from KenPom.com -- ranks last among Badgers participating in at least 10 percent of the team's minutes and is well below the 100.3 D-1 average. However, if Evans were shooting just 60 percent from the free throw line, his offensive rating would jump to roughly 97.0. That mark would still rank below average, but it would be more than good enough to justify having his excellent rebounding (21.5 percent defensive rebounds, 128th in the country) and shot-blocking (2.8 percent of attempted two-pointers, 464th in the country) on the floor.
With Indiana (12-3 in Big Ten play) falling to Minnesota earlier in the night, the Badgers sit just one game out of first place in the conference and enter a tie for second place with Michigan State at 11-4. The Badgers host Purdue in the first and only regular season meeting of the two teams on Sunday.