MADISON - Scoring just 47 points against a hapless Nebraska team wasn't a good omen for Wisconsin's then-upcoming matchup with No. 12 Illinois. Heading into Saturday's game, the Badgers ranked just 114th in the country in scoring, and averaged just over 53 points per game through two Big Ten contests.
So the Badgers caught everyone in the Kohl Center off guard, especially the Illini, when they shot 53.3 percent from the floor in the first half, including 42.9 percent from behind the arc, and blew out Illinois 74-51 Saturday afternoon in Madison.
The Badgers shot their way to a 39-19 lead into halftime, and didn't let up after that. Although the Illini rebounded a bit in the second half and shot 42.9 percent the rest of the way, the Badgers kept their first half momentum going to seal up the win. The Badgers are now 3-0 in Big Ten play, while Illinois falls to 1-3 in conference play.
Offense was pretty easy to come by for the Badgers early on, who opened up the game on a 14-0 scoring run after the Illini committed three turnovers on their first three possessions of the game. The Badgers made seven of their first ten shots, and held the lead for the rest of the game. After the game, the Badgers said getting those early shots to fall played a big part in their success.
"Today we were able to get out early and hit some big shots," point guard Traevon Jackson said. "I think everybody just kind of built off of that. We just played more loose and played with confidence."
Senior forward Jared Berggren led the Badgers with 15 points and recorded the first double-double of his career after pulling down 12 rebounds, while Jackson and freshman forward Sam Dekker combined for 27 more points behind five made three-point shots. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said Berggren's first double-double was nice to have, but that one stat tends to overlook how well the 6-foot-10 senior player against the Illini.
"He works hard every day, and he does things in practice that shows that the potential is there. Scoring wise he could have even had a couple more buckets," Ryan said. "A double-double is a stat that's a nice one to have, but there's so many more phases to the game. Defensively, the things that he did I thought were pretty good."
As a whole, the Badgers made 43.5 percent of their three-point shots, and even rebounded a bit on a rough free throw shooting stretch. The Badgers shot 61.5 percent from the free throw line, which was good enough to keep them afloat and help weather a scoring spurt by Illinois.
The Badgers also dominated Illini on the glass, pulling down 43 rebounds to Illinois' 24. But the Badgers were also able to take advantage of those rebounds, and outscored the Illini 23-11 on second-chance points. Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said the Badgers focused on pulling down rebounds against the Illini, and it allowed them to jump out to a 14-0 lead early in the game when the Illini couldn't get anything going.
"We were hungry on the glass, and it showed," Bruesewitz said. "We attacked the glass, and that's something we're going to have to continue to do."
The Badgers might have dispatched Illinois with unexpected ease Saturday but they still have a very difficult slate of Big Ten games up next. The Badgers are scheduled to play four ranked teams over the next two weeks, with three of those five games coming on the road.
The Badgers will travel to No. 5 Indiana on Jan. 15, where they'll try to hand the Hoosiers their first conference loss of the season. That game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. CST tip off from Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.