Wisconsin (5-3 Big Ten, 12-7 overall) took care of business at home — as head coach Greg Gard earned Big Ten win number 50 — after defeating Nebraska (2-6 Big Ten, 7-12 overall) by a final of 82-68. However, Coach Gard was not the only one with a record setting night; Junior forward Nate Reuvers reached 127 career blocks, passing Rashard Griffith and vaunting himself into fourth place for career blocks in Wisconsin history. The record breaking didn’t end there, as the Badgers also set a new school record with 18 made three-pointers in the game.
The Badgers only put up 12 points in the paint all game, but they didn’t have to rely on scoring in the post thanks to an extremely high shooting percentage from behind the arc. Just last week against Michigan State, Wisconsin shot a mere 21.1 percent from three-point range, but this time around the team improved drastically, shooting a season-high 52 percent (18-34).
“We talked about the contagious shooting, when one guy knocks it down it kind of just trickles down to the next guy, and then the next guy is feeding off that confidence. So, I think us having a balanced scoring and offensive game, that’s our biggest asset,” junior guard D’Mitrik Trice said after the game. “I think that we have a lot of guys that can score in the double digits, and when we have multiple guys doing that, it’s just hard to guard.”
Despite all of that, Nebraska put up a fight until the end. The Cornhuskers had four players in double figures, and cut Wisconsin’s double-digit lead to single digits twice, but in the end, were unable to stop Wisconsin from knocking down the outside shot. Nebraska was led by junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. with 20 points and eight rebounds, followed closely by freshman forward Kevin Cross with 17 points.
Much like Nebraska, Wisconsin also had four players in double figures, plus a big presence from the bench which contributed 29 points. The Badgers were led by junior guard Brad Davison who put up 14 points and six rebounds, with the lone senior Brevin Pritzl close behind with four three-pointers for 12 points, his highest total in a Big Ten game this season. Trice also emerged as a leader in the game, with a near triple-double of 11 points, a career-best 10 rebounds and seven assists. Wisconsin moved the ball extremely well tonight, with 23 assists and 18 three-pointers made by eight different players, but despite that Gard still critiqued the performance, saying after the game the defense should have been better.
“We had some miscommunication issues and then we did a poor job. I thought of stopping the ball at times, we were either too low on the ball screen, did not stop it when it did come. We got spun around on a three in front of our bench, twice in a row, so there were just some things that needed to be straightened out,” he said. “We can’t get caught up on what’s going to happen for us offensively because you are going to get open looks with how they play, and on the defensive end we needed to tighten the belt a little bit.”
Wisconsin led for the majority of the game, but finished the first half with a narrow 39-38 advantage. The shots were falling for Wisconsin, but it was sloppy defense that allowed Nebraska to hang around. Going into halftime, Davison said the focus was on fixing defense, not offense.
“Kind of across the board, that was the main message at halftime, don’t worry about offense, offense will take care of itself but we are going to win this game on the defensive end,” said Davison. “We don’t play individual defense, we play defense as a unit.”
The Badgers came out of halftime with energy and composure as they sunk shots and stopped plays on the defensive end. In the second half, the Badgers forced 13 turnovers and out-rebounded Nebraska 24-18. Burke stayed strong for Nebraska and continued to fight with eight second half points, but Wisconsin was able to limit the team’s leader scorer sophomore guard Cam Mack, who put up 12 points in the first half to just two in the second.
Looking ahead, Wisconsin will travel to Purdue on Friday for another Big Ten battle. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.