As expected, Wisconsin walked into a hornet's nest Sunday evening in Lincoln, Nebraska. The host Cornhuskers invited more than 15,000 of their most raucous supporters to the Pinnacle Bank Arena to cheer Nebraska on in its quest for an NCAA berth and first-round bye in next week's Big Ten tournament.
On the line for the No. 9 Badgers? A potential number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Nebraska (19-11, 11-7 Big Ten) looked like the more inspired team for most of the game, and was able to attack the Badgers inside where they have been vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) was not sharp. Turnovers and poor free throw shooting spoiled Bo Ryan's bid for his 700th win. As a result, Wisconsin fell, 77-68, to the Cornhuskers in its regular season finale, snapping an eight-game winning streak.
The 77 points were the most surrendered by the Badger defense since an 81-68 loss at Minnesota on Jan. 22.
Though the Badgers got away with some lazy passes, uncharacteristic unforced errors still hurt them. They committed 11 turnovers that directly led to 17 Nebraska points. The Huskers committed five turnovers, surrendering only two points off of them.
Even so, Wisconsin would have been much closer -- even celebrating perhaps -- if it weren't for a dreadful 11-for-21 performance from the free throw line.
Nebraska pounced on the Badgers right away with an opening 10-3 salvo, forcing Bo Ryan to call a rare 30-second timeout.
The 1-2 punch of Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway gave UW fits from the start. Shields used his long stride to slice to the basket at will, scoring all 12 of his first-half points in the paint. Petteway added nine before halftime, though most of his points in the paint occurred after the break.
Both players led the Cornhuskers with 26 points. Leading scorer Petteway made 11-of-14 from the charity stripe in addition to a game-high 10 rebounds.
Despite Nebraska's hot start and the high energy in the building on it's "No Sit Sunday," Wisconsin was opportunistic during the opening half. Nigel Hayes used some veteran moves to trim the early Husker lead. Timely outside shooting took care of the rest.
After the third Husker amigo, Walter Pitchford, slammed home a fast break bucket with 11 minutes to go, Nebraska held just a 19-15 lead. Junior Duje Dukan, who gave Ryan 13 solid minutes, soon answered back with a five straight points to give the Badgers a 21-19 lead.
Even though the Badgers seem to lack good movement on offense, late three-pointers by Ben Brust and Josh Gasser bailed out UW on numerous possessions. The pair tied for the team lead with eight points heading into halftime with with a 35-33 lead.
The Badgers made 5-of-9 behind the arc as both team shot over 50 percent in the first half.
Heading into the second half, the question was whether or not Nebraska's home court advantage could sustain the Huskers for another 20 minutes. The answer turned out to be a resounding yes.
Wisconsin came out of the locker room firing, though, and extended its lead to seven points immediately. Pitchford picked up three quick fouls as UW battled to maintain its slim advantage. Frank Kaminsky nailed of of his two treys to pull Wisconsin ahead once again, 49-47.
However, Kaminsky would exit for an extended rest after he committed his third foul on the ensuing possession. An unusual lineup of Dukan, Hayes, Gasser, Brust and Vitto Brown played several minutes together, but the Badgers scored only three points during the five-minute stretch that Kaminsky was parked on the bench -- thanks in part to more missed free throws.
Ray Gallegos hit a momentous three-pointer out of the under-eight timeout to retake the lead for Nebraska, at 53-52. Then Shields flushed a fast break dunk to prompt another Ryan timeout to get Kaminsky back in the game.
Unfortunately, when Kaminsky returned, the Cornhuskers embarked on a 12-5 run to take their biggest lead of the night. Pitchford was playing with four fouls when he pitched in two daggers from three-point land minutes apart, the last of which put Nebraska up 65-57 with 3:10 left, effectively clinching the game for the Huskers.
Petteway then sank 8-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes to ice the victory. With the win, Nebraska clinched the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and beat Wisconsin for the first time as a member of the Big Ten conference.
Pitchford wound up with 15 points and five rebounds for Nebraska, which appears to be headed toward their first NCAA bid since 1998.
Seven players scored for Wisconsin (compared to only five for Nebraska), led by Kaminsky's 14 points and eight rebounds. Brust and Gasser were held in check in the second half, while Sam Dekker logged only 24 minutes and scored six points.
Nebraska out-shot Wisconsin 52 percent to 42 percent, although the Badgers shot a 9-of-20 (45%) on threes for the game.
On Friday in Indianapolis, Wisconsin will meet the winner of the Minnesota-Penn State game in a second-round Big Ten tournament game.
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