Nebraska’s road woes continued on Tuesday as the Huskers dropped to 0-6 with an 82-64 loss at Wisconsin. The Huskers (7-12, 2-6 Big Ten) put together a strong first half but a 20-4 run to open the second half and a record-setting day from 3 for the Badgers were too much to overcome.
“You look at Wisconsin, not many teams go into that building and shoot 54% in a half, so I was really pleased with the ball movement, the attack, being under control and making simple plays,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Second half, especially when you dig yourself a hole, at times human nature is to try to get it back all at once… At times we do take a rushed one where you need to have a little bit of movement, get the defense shifted into either the pick-and-roll or the slot attack, the slot ISO.”
Dachon Burke Jr. led the way for the Huskers with 20 points and eight rebounds in one of his best performances as a Husker. He entered the game averaging 12.7 points on 42.2% shooting in Big Ten play and the 10-for-14 shooting performance boosted his percentage to 46.4%. Only three of Burke’s field goal attempts were jump shots (0-of-2 from with a missed mid-range pull-up) as he got to the basket almost at will throughout the game and finished strong.
“The biggest thing I thought was he was under control on his attacks to the basket,” Hoiberg said. “He only took one where I thought he was off-balance, a play where he was going to his left that he missed. But 10-for-14, all of his finishes were in the paint and that’s something he can build on. He had been struggling in there a little bit, especially since the conference season has started, but he was terrific. He got to the rim and like I said, he was under control, he had a couple nice kick-outs on drives where he made simple plays and that’s what our offense is. When we make simple plays, we’re pretty darn effective. When we go in there and try to do too much and make the home run-type play, that’s where we’re getting ourselves in trouble.”
Nebraska also got a spark off the bench from freshman forward Kevin Cross Jr. who found some success with the pick-and-pop in particular. Cross said he got comfortable with the game and the spots on the floor where Nebraska was using him. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting including 3-of-5 from 3.
“We had something that was working where we got Kevin on top of the floor either for a shot or to create a long closeout where he can attack and get to the basket,” Hoiberg said. “I was really pleased with how Kevin read that situation and got into the paint.”
Grad transfer Matej Kavas, on the other hand, logged his first DNP of the season as Hoiberg opted to go a different route with his rotation. Freshman guard Charlie Easley logged a season-high 22 minutes while Jervay Green also played 12 minutes off the bench. Kavas is just 3-of-17 (17.6%) from 3 in Big Ten play and 5-of-24 (20.8%) overall.
“I thought we had a really good rhythm going that first half and just the flow of the game,” Hoiberg said. “Matej’s been around a long time, he knows he’s got to continue to prepare himself and be ready when his name’s called.”
Nebraska’s next crack at earning a road win is up next on Saturday as the Huskers travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, for a rematch with Rutgers. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights beat the Huskers 79-62 on Jan. 3 and followed that up with a 3-1 stretch that resulted in Rutgers cracking the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1979. The 24th-ranked Scarlet Knights (14-5, 5-3 Big Ten) fell at No. 19 Iowa 85-80 on Wednesday and will be looking to bounce back at home against the Huskers.
“[Pikiell’s] done a phenomenal job,” Hoiberg said. “I’m happy for Steve. Obviously it takes some time to get it to that point but he did a phenomenal job at Stony Brook. I got to know Steve very well when I was out recruiting the prep schools. I should have bought an apartment out in Tilton, New Hampshire, with as much time as I spent with Georges Niang out there. But Steve was always a guy that I really enjoyed talking the game with and to see the way he’s built it with his type of players and the style that they play with toughness and pounding the ball into the paint, they’re relentless on the glass. He’s done a terrific job.
“It sounds like they’re going to be sold out for the first time in a long time and that building’s loud when it’s half full. We’re going to be in for a really tough game. We have to withstand runs. We know there’s going to be a lot of energy, a lot of excitement in that building.”
Nebraska got off to a decent start but fell apart in the second half and couldn’t get it turned around after halftime. The Scarlet Knights, playing without leading scorer and point guard Geo Baker, grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and converted them into 12 second chance points while scoring 52 points in the paint in total. Cross said the Scarlet Knights simply out-toughed them, an assessment Hoiberg agreed with.
“That’s the one game I was really disappointed in as far as games in league,” Hoiberg said. “I didn’t think, defensively, we matched their physicality and you have to do that. You have to be ready right from the beginning of the game. We actually got off to a good start; we didn’t finish the half well at all. We had a couple gambles late in the half that gave them a double-digit lead. You just have to bring a physicality to this game and if you don’t it’s going to be a really long night. We have to get back in transition. They’re really fast. In that building, they pressure full-court, they press. You just have to be ready for all that. If you’re not mentally prepared in this one, stay home.”
Tipoff at the RAC on Saturday is set for 1 p.m. on BTN with Lisa Byington and Shon Morris on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.