Brad Davison hit three in the last three minutes before the halftime break, two from beyond the arc, all with a rather high degree of difficulty. Entering Saturday afternoon showdown with Nebraska, the Wisconsin guard had missed 16 of his last 18 attempts from beyond the arc.
For the first 17 minutes of the game, he had seven points. To say Nebraska was in control might be a little strong, but the Huskers were doing what they wanted to do. Wisconsin big man Nate Reuvers picked up two fouls in the first five minutes and sat until the second half. Early on, Wisconsin was allowing Nebraska to speed the game up. Nebraska had a 21-15 lead after 10.
Then Badger forward Micah Potter started setting up shop on the low block and everything flowed from there. Davison and company started finding in-rhythm, in-system triples, Wisconsin took a 39-38 halftime lead, Nebraska started pressing, Wisconsin kept draining shots and the Badgers once again rolled the Huskers in the second half.
On Jan. 21, Wisconsin used a 20-2 second-half run and a program-record 18 triples to down Nebraska 82-68 in Madison. On Saturday, Wisconsin used a 21-2 second-half run (with 16 straight at one point) to send the Huskers to their 10th straight loss, 81-64.
“It’s been a hard situation for us all year when teams have good bigs, and then they’re kicking out to hit open 3s,” said senior wing Haanif Cheatham. “That’s what they did these past two games we’ve played them.”
Nebraska mixed up its coverages early. Some fronting, some doubling, a lot of switching. The energy was high and the offense at the other end flowed as a result.
“I thought we came out with great energy and urgency in the first half,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I thought the shots they hit in the first half, a lot of them were well-contested. I thought the ball was moving exceptionally well in that first half and we were getting what we wanted against a team that’s one of the top defensive teams in the country. Even the possessions where we missed shots, they were great looks, either right around the rim or open 3s.”
Nebraska used the same starting five it used in a near-upset of Maryland last time out: Cam Mack, Jervay Green, Cheatham, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, and Kevin Cross. That group even stayed together through the first media timeout.
There was a nifty give-and-go at the top of the break between Thorbjarnarson and Mack that led to an easy two at the rim. There was a backdoor find from Cross to Cheatham cutting from the right corner. Nebraska was making extra passes and finding open shooters. Then it was forcing the action off Wisconsin misses/turnovers.
When the Badgers finally slowed things down and went inside-out is when things changed. In the second half, Nebraska may have had some fatigue (Dachon Burke played off the bench, but he and Mack were both dealing with illness), but Wisconsin killed them the way of death by paper cuts.
The important part of the 21-2 run, said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard? “We touched the post.”
“That was key for us, even though we were shooting 3s at times, our best 3s come inside-out. We were able to score a little bit at the rim with Nate, Micah got a few there, that was the key. Even though we were going to get some open 3s, we had to make sure we put pressure on the rim. We were able to do that.”
Davison popped off for a career-high 30. He made eight triples. Fellow guard D’Mitrik Trice hit 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. Credit Wisconsin for some high-level shot-making in certain instances, Thorbjarnarson said, but Nebraska’s urgency wasn’t where it needed to be in the final 20 minutes.
“In the second half, especially when they started making those to extend the lead, I think we kind of got a little frustrated and went away from what we were supposed to be doing,” he said.
Hoiberg took two early timeouts, telling the team not to panic, but Nebraska has consistently this season done just that when things start going sideways.
“I think when we struggle on defense, we try to get a 14-point play on one shot, we try to do a little too much on back-to-back possessions,” Cheatham said. “It messes up the flow of the defense and offense. I think we just have to find a way to sustain the hit that we get and be a tougher team.”
In two games against the Huskers this season, Wisconsin is at 1.226 points per possession. It has hit 33 of its 65 triples. Gard’s message at halftime completely ignored his side’s offense; it just hasn’t been much of an issue against Nebraska. Instead, he focused on the defense.
Reuvers was a factor inside on defense, and Nebraska did itself no favors.
“In that second half, the urgency wasn’t there,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of that was due to, again, our inability to finish at the rim. We were 1-for-11 at the rim between the second and third media timeouts (in the second half). What that does is it really hurts your floor balance, it hurts your defense in transition. That’s where a lot of those 3s were made.”
Nebraska was 17-for-34 at the rim for the game. “Fifty percent! That’s good!” Not at the basket. And not when the other side is laser-beaming 3s from all over the court.
“To defend the 3-point line you’ve got to be sharp, you’ve got to be there on the catch, on the rotation,” Hoiberg said. “The last game I thought our rotations were pretty solid. Tonight, our rotations weren’t as crisp as they needed to be.”
So, as a result, Nebraska is in the midst of its longest losing streak since the 1962-63 season. Hoiberg’s grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached that team. Eeriness everywhere.
That season’s streak was snapped after 10, though. In the 11th game, Bush’s Huskers beat what was a 15-5 Oklahoma State team by one point.
Nebraska’s next opponent is Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s Spartans are 17-8. Nebraska will host them on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. CT on FS1.
Nebraska won’t be able to fix its size issue on the fly. Teams will be able to play inside-out and generate clean 3s. The best teams should even be able to rattle a Nebraska team that has trailed by double-digits at one point or another in every game during this losing streak.
What Nebraska can fix is its mindset.
“We’ve got to play 40 minutes,” Hoiberg said. “If we’re going to have any chance at all, we’ve got to play a consistent 40 minutes of basketball.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.