MADISON, Wis. - It wasn't pretty, but the No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) pulled off a key home win over the No. 16 Indiana Hoosiers (16-5, 4-5) 57-50 at the Kohl Center. After starting the Big Ten conference slate 1-3, the Badgers have rattled off five straight wins, two of them over ranked teams, and now find themselves just a half game out of first place.
Ben Brust led the way for the Badgers on Thursday night, putting up 13 points to lead all scorers. Ryan Evans had 12 points on the strength of his free throw shooting, where he went 8-for-8 from the line, to go along with nine rebounds. Senior point guard Jordan Taylor had ten points, as did junior forward Mike Bruesewitz. It's that kind of team effort that has sustained the Badgers through this streak, which has kept them in the thick of the Big Ten race.
"I think we had to just keep believing that we had a good team in here and we knew that," junior forward Jared Berggren said after the game. "Despite the struggles at the start of the Big Ten, we knew what we had here. We knew we had guys that weren't going to give up easy and we were turning things around."
That turn around hasn't always been easy, and it certainly wasn't on Thursday night in the Kohl Center. The Badgers continued their hot-and-cold shooting trend to start the game, opening the contest 4-of-6 from the floor, but finishing the half 12-of-34.
The Badgers shot just 35.2 percent from the floor in the first half, but trailed the Hoosiers by just two points at halftime. Indiana's inability to capitalize on the Badgers' cold start to the night came back to haunt the Hoosiers, as Wisconsin came back to shoot 40.9 percent from two after the break. The Badgers also nailed down 12-of-12 free throws in the second half, after shooting just 25 percent from the charity stripe to start the game.
"We pretty much had to keep fighting," Berggren said. "It wasn't going to be easy, we had to scrap to the very end."
The Badgers didn't let their poor first half shooting weigh on them, however. Berggren and sophomore guard Ben Brust emphasized that their mindset had to be that the next shot was going to fall.
"You've always got to keep the confidence and know that things are going to turn around," Berggren said.
Berggren finished the game with just four points, but had a new career-high five blocks. Three of them came against the Hoosiers' star freshman Cody Zeller, who was held to just four points in the game. That kind of defense saved the day for the Badgers, who were locked in a close game with Indiana all night. The lead changed 10 times on the night, with Indiana's largest lead being just six points. Junior forward Ryan Evans spoke about the Badgers' defense, and how it keeps them in games consistently.
"I think it just starts with defense," Evans said. "That speaks for itself. We were able to hold (Indiana) on a bad shooting night and find other ways to win the game."
The home win should be a nice confidence-booster for the Badgers, who have dropped two Big Ten games at home already this year. Senior point guard Jordan Taylor spoke about what it's like to have a good game at home after their struggles earlier this season.
"It was definitely fun," Taylor said. "The crowd was unbelievable. We got the students back from break and they showed they were back - they were awesome. We've just got to keep continuing to (hold home court)."
Up next, the Badgers travel to State College, Penn., to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions (10-12, 2-7). The Lions are in the Big Ten cellar this season, but their two conference wins have come at home. They've already upset Illinois and Purdue at the Bryce Jordan Center, so the Badgers will have to stay focused if they want to extend their winning streak to six games.