It was a game only a mother could love. Or fans of low-scoring, defense-first basketball.
“If you’re a fan of people showing that they want something – no hot dogging, no in-your-face stuff – (this was) just all hard, clean basketball,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said after the Badgers hard-fought 47-41 win over Nebraska in Lincoln on Sunday.
In a matchup of the Big Ten’s top scoring defense (Wisconsin) and the league’s worst scoring offense (Nebraska), this was always going to be a low-scoring affair. Neither team disappointed as Nebraska (9-6, 0-2) and Wisconsin combined to shoot just 37.25-percent from the field.
“We’re challenged offensively regardless,” coach Tim Miles said. “Against a really good defensive team like Wisconsin, it doesn’t surprise me that we were in the 40s.”
Yet it was Nebraska that held the edge defensively early. The Huskers held Wisconsin (11-4, 2-0) to 26.7-percent from the field in the first half, but couldn’t turn it into a halftime lead thanks in large part to the Badgers’ size inside. Wisconsin scored six of its 19 first half points on second chance opportunities and had six offensive rebounds to the Huskers’ zero.
On the other end, Wisconsin’s 6-10 senior center, Jared Berggren, had four blocks in the first half and altered another three shots as the Huskers had just four points in the paint. But a late Brandon Ubel three pointer, just his second of the season, pulled Nebraska within two with 2:24 remaining and seemed to spark the Huskers. A steal and layup by Ray Gallegos 90 seconds later drew the Huskers even at 19-19 headed into the half.
Shavon Shields, playing in place of injured starting center Andre Almeida, scored and was fouled on a putback on the first possession of the second half to give Nebraska a three-point lead, but it would never get any larger for the Huskers. With the Badgers struggling from the outside, Ryan turned to Berggren on the inside. He scored to cut Nebraska’s lead to 22-21, then tallied 10 of the Badgers’ next 16 points over the next 12-plus minutes of the second half. Berggren finished with a game-high 13 points.
But Nebraska hung tough for the most part. A Gallegos jumper with 6:16 remaining gave Nebraska a 38-37 lead, the Huskers last of the game. But the absence of Almeida inside continued to hurt the Huskers on the boards. Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans had a game-high 15 rebounds and scored 6 of his 10 total points over the game’s final six minutes as the Badgers slowly put the Huskers away.
“The only reason Andre wasn’t in there was he was still a little limited mobility-wise,” Miles said. “The way they play five shooters so much, I just didn’t think he was going to be in a position to be successful, nor would our team. I didn’t decide that until about seven or eight minutes into the game.”
There were some positives for Nebraska in the narrow loss. Miles cited Shields for his effort defensively in relief of Almeida. He had 8 rebounds to tie for the team lead with Ubel. Gallegos and Dylan Talley each scored 12 points to lead Nebraska.
“I told the guys in the locker room (that) I can live with that effort,” Miles said of the loss. “That’s got to be what our identity looks like, that kind of team that’s out there scrapping and fighting. I can live with that.”
Nebraska travels to Ann Arbor to face No. 2 Michigan (15-0, 2-0) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
Shields made his first start of the season against Wisconsin. Along with freshman guard Benny Parker, it was the first time Nebraska had started two freshmen since the 2009-10 season … In 15 games so far this season, Nebraska has now held eight opponents to 60 points or less … The Huskers committed just eight turnovers. It was the sixth game this season where Nebraska committed 10 or fewer … Forward Brandon Ubel was 2-for-2 on 3-pointers, the Huskers only threes in the game. He came into Sunday shooting 1-for-9 from beyond the arc … Given the poor shooting in the game, Ryan joked that he challenge Miles to a game of HORSE as the coaches met at mid court after the final buzzer. I would’ve stuck around to watch that.