MADISON -- After a 12-1 non-conference start, the Wisconsin Badgers started their Big Ten schedule at the Kohl Center on Wednesday afternoon, against Penn State, getting a quick reminder of the intensity and stiff competition the conference brings on a game-to-game basis. While the game was close for most of the first half, Wisconsin was able to jump out to a large lead early in the second half on their way to a 89-72 win.
"This league is so physical, so tough," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "Penn State is going to beat a lot of people. Fortunately we were 1.4 or something on points-per-possession."
The Badgers (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten) placed four of their five starters in double digits and were led by sophomore Nigel Hayes, who scored 21 points. Frank Kaminsky registered his sixth double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson added large contributions to the win as well, with 17 and 16 points respectively.
"Obviously, we ran into a buzz saw," said Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers. "Frank and Nigel played really well, but their top four guys played really well. Very difficult to defend today when they shoot like [they did]."
"[The scoring] is pretty tough to stop. I mean that's four guys with pretty good numbers there," Dekker said. "It's good to see from us that we weren't just going to one guy. More than one stepped up."
To start the game it looked as though the Badgers could not be stopped, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. But the Nittany Lions (12-2, 0-1) would quickly respond with a run of their own, scoring 15 of the next 21 points. The teams continued to go back and forth late into the first half thanks in large part to D.J. Newbill, who started 6-of-6 to open the game and finished with 29 points to lead all scorers.
A Dekker three-pointer at the 5:11 mark of the first half gave the Badgers a 32-30 lead, which the team maintained the rest of the way. Wisconsin went into the locker room on top, 43-36, at halftime.
"They were making some tough jumpers," Ryan said. "There were some shots in the first half that touched, I thought, 90 percent of the rim and went down. So does it revert to the mean usually? Most times it does."
The Badgers wasted no time in the second half, extending their lead to 16 points before the under-16 timeout. That big lead was never really threatened despite Penn State cutting it to nine at one point. Wisconsin asserted itself as the better team, extending the lead to as many as 22 points on its way to a 17-point victory.
Chambers said his team, which saw its 10-game winning streak end, looked tired as the game went on.
"We were off for nine days," Chambers said. "I was worried about [fatigue and rust]. I think they just wore us down."
Wisconsin had to play well to withstand a 64-percent shooting show by the Nittany Lions in the first half. The Badgers controlled the post, scoring 36 points in the paint, where most of Kaminsky’s damage was done. Dekker and Hayes added to the inside effort as well, finding mismatches among smaller Penn State defenders.
"We got paint touches. When we get in the paint it obviously puts strain on the defense to stop it," Dekker said. "When we have guys like Frank and Nigel and myself and Trae that are real strong inside, it's tough to stop."
In the end, the Badgers outrebounded the Nittany Lions, 25-22, and also out-shot them by a clip of 63.8 percent to 53.7 percent.
"When we can get stuff inside, it opens up the perimeter for us," Kaminsky said. "We were able to get the ball inside on a couple of post ups and kick it out for open threes and able to knock them down which really spurred a run for us."
Wisconsin has now won their last six games against Penn State and 19 of their last 21 in the series. Penn State has still never won at the Kohl Center, including 17 straight losses in Madison. Penn State's last win in Madison was January 26, 1995 at the UW Field House.
Next up for the Badgers is Northwestern, whom UW plays on January 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Evanston, Illinois.