MADISON - It's amazing how much better a basketball team looks when its shots go through the basket. After an ugly 50-45 win over Nebraska at the Kohl Center Sunday, in which the Badgers made just six of their 28 second-half shots, Wisconsin scored its most points in a Big Ten game this season in a 77-57 win over Northwestern Wednesday night.
"You just keep working it," head coach Bo Ryan said of his team's shooting slump entering the game. "You don't whine, you don't complain, you don't feel sorry for yourself. You just play, and practice, and practice, and practice some more."
Four players scored in double figures for UW, including Ryan Evans, who led the team with 17 points. Evans was 7-of-13 from the floor and a perfect 3-for-3 from the free throw line. He also pulled down nine rebounds to lead the Badgers in that department.
Evans' most impressive two points came when he flushed an alley-oop dunk off a lob pass from Jordan Taylor. That play, which came with 3:07 to play in the game, put the exclamation point on a satisfying victory.
"It felt good," Evans said. "Rob (Wilson) was saying that I couldn't jump anymore, so I had to show him. I was able to operate inside and kind of work my way outside."
Wisconsin shot 53.6 percent from the floor in the second half to turn a tenuous 34-32 halftime lead into a comfortable final margin.
UW raced out to a 9-2 lead just 1:25 into the game, prompting Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody to use a timeout. Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser all hit threes during the run.
NU then went on its own 16-5 run to take a four-point lead less than seven minutes into the first half. The teams traded baskets and were tied at 30 when Frank Kaminsky drove hard to the basket and drew a foul for Wisconsin. After sinking both free throws, Drew Crawford scored two of his 11 first-half points for Northwestern and Bruesewitz responded with a layup, the last of his 12 first-half points.
The Wildcats had the final possession of the first period but were unable to get a shot off before the halftime buzzer.
Wisconsin began the second half with a 34-13 run to build an insurmountable 23-point lead with 8:29 to play. During the series of possessions Taylor made three consecutive 3-pointers, Gasser drained a 3-pointer, and Evans buried a jumper and two free throws.
"It always helps when the ball's going in the basket," Taylor said. "We're just doing a better job of moving without the ball and passing up good shots for great shots. It's just kind of contagious."
Northwestern came into the game with just seven active scholarship players. It didn't help that Luka Mirkovic and Nick Fruendt went scoreless in 23 combined minutes. Crawford and John Shurna combined for 36 points, but 23 of those came in the first half.
With the lead comfortably in hand, Ryan emptied his bench and walk-on J.D. Wise scored five points in just a single minute on the floor.
After staring at a 1-3 start in the Big Ten on January 8, Wisconsin has rattled off three straight victories and is now closer to the top of the conference than the bottom. The Badgers will be put to the test Sunday in Champaign by league-leading Illinois, but the first seven games have prepared them well.
"It's still all about what's next," Ryan said. "Now we've got to do things to get ready for Illinois. The game doesn't change for us."