MADISON - It wasn't a 39-point blowout like the Wisconsin football team's win over Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game, but the Badger basketball team was in no less control over the Cornhuskers during their 77-46 win Tuesday night in the Kohl Center.
The No. 16 Badgers (20-8, 11-4) traded shots with Nebraska (13-15, 4-11) early on, but they took the lead for good seven minutes into the game and kept it thanks to hot shooting and another excellent defensive performance. Wisconsin held a 44-23 lead at halftime after shooting 61.5 percent on 3-pointers to start the game, part of a 59.3 percent performance from the floor.
And while Nebraska briefly led the Badgers twice in the early minutes, a 35.7 percent shooting performance in the first half and scoring droughts of 6:28, 1:52, and 2:08 in the second half sealed their fate in their second game against the Badgers this season.
Freshman forward Sam Dekker led the Badgers with 19 points off the bench, while Ryan Evans and Ben Brust also finished in double figures. Senior center Jared Berggren had just four points but his four blocks gave him Wisconsin's all-time record with at least four games left in his college career.
The Badgers also finished with 19 assists, their highest total in Big Ten play this year. Head coach Bo Ryan credited the assists to his players making the extra pass, which allowed his team to take better shots against Nebraska.
"For us to be successful offensively, we need to be able to make the extra pass," Ryan said after the game. "Most of our offense comes from making the extra pass and hitting the guy when he's open."
On top of shooting a high percentage from behind the arc, Wisconsin's win over Nebraska also kept their shooting hot streak alive following their loss to Minnesota nearly two weeks ago. In wins over Ohio State, Northwestern, and now Nebraska the Badgers are shooting exactly 50 percent from the floor.
As a result the Badgers have improved their season shooting percentage to 43 percent, and Berggren said their recent hot streak has a lot to do with valuing every possession.
"Offensively we're playing at a high level," Berggren said. "We're shooting better, which is a big part of why it looks so good. We're just hitting shots right now. We're making hard cuts. We're being efficient."
The win moved the Badgers into a tie for second place in the Big Ten following No. 1 Indiana's loss to Minnesota earlier Tuesday night. The Badgers are now just a game behind the Hoosiers with three games to play, but Berggren said they need to take care of their own business if they want to finish the year with a share of the Big Ten title.
"Now we just need [Indiana] to drop one more and we need to take care of our business," Berggren said. "That's the most important thing is for us to take care of ours."
They'll get a chance to do just that this Sunday on Senior Day. The Badgers will host the Purdue Boilermakers in their only scheduled matchup of the season, and in the process will send off Berggren, Evans, and fellow seniors Mike Bruesewitz, Dan Fahey, and J.D. Wise. That game is scheduled for 12 p.m. CST, and will air on the Big Ten Network.