After enjoying a rare weekend off, getting back to work couldn't have turned out any better for No.17 Wisconsin
as it resumed its quest for a conference title.
Making seven of its first 10 3-point attempts, No.17 Wisconsin had little trouble rolling over Nebraska, 77-46, Tuesday night at the Kohl Center to draw even closer to the top spot in the Big Ten.
Not only did Wisconsin (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) move into a tie for second place in the Big Ten, the Badgers moved within one game of first place after Minnesota registered its first win against the top-ranked team in the AP poll since 1989 with a 77-73 over No.1 Indiana (24-4, 12-3).
Sam Dekker scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in a first half to help Wisconsin shoot 59.2 percent and score 44 points, the most the Badgers had registered in a half since scoring 47 points against Samford Dec. 29.
Ryan Evans added 14 points (6-for-13), seven rebounds and went 2-for-2 on his jump-shot free throws. Ben Brust added 13 points, his seventh straight game with double-figure scoring, and Jared Berggren added four blocks, surpassing Rashard Griffith as the school's all-time block leader (126).
"It's not the blocks, it's the changes in shots and his intimidation in the fact that he's there," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "He doesn't intimidate because he's got a bad hair. He doesn't intimate because he looks mean. He doesn't intimate because he's got 900 tattoos. He intimates by his presence and his timing."
Wisconsin has won three-straight Big Ten games by 20+ points for the first time since the 1911-12 season and shot 48 percent from 3-point range Tuesday, a stark turnaround after going 19 of 64 from 3-point range (29.7 percent) in last three games combined.
Much like Wisconsin's last two dominant victories over then-No.13 Ohio State and Northwestern, the Badgers used a dominant first half to dictate tempo and seize control.
After Nebraska (13-15, 4-11) took a two-point lead, the Badgers unloaded with a 27-4 run over 8:16 that included points from six different players, 3-pointers from four players and 11 points from Dekker. Wisconsin finished the first half with 13 assists to only three turnovers.
"Our guards (found) us in good spots to hit shots," said Dekker. "Traevon (Jackson) and Ben hit two triples right away, and that's gets us going … Whenever we can get hot like that right away, it puts added pressure on the defense."
Through conference play, nobody has been hotter than Dekker. Averaging 9.5 points on the season and 9.3 points in conference play, Dekker leads the conference in scoring during conference play, has scored in double figured in five straight games and added four assists, two rebounds a block and a steal.
"Every time Sam had the ball I was running back (on defense)," said Brust. "I knew it was going in."
After going 5-for-6 from the floor (not to mention 4-for-5 from 3-point range and 5 of 6 from the line), Dekker is hitting 52 percent in conference play and has hit 24 of his last 41 shots (58.5 percent), impressive considering he's also 12-for-18 from 3-point range during that time span.
Dekker hasn't hit less than 40 percent of his shots since the conference opener.
"It helps a lot that these guys have a lot of faith in me," said Dekker.
In its win at Lincoln Jan.6, Wisconsin managed only 47 points and 37.7 percent shooting. Wisconsin passed that point mark with 17:06 remaining.
"We've come together so much as a team (since Jan.6)," said Dekker. "We had senior leaders at the beginning, but we had a lot of inexperienced players. We didn't know how to play with each other. Now we have found that cohesion."
Senior Dylan Talley scored 21 points for the Cornhuskers, who couldn't rekindle the comeback magic. Two days after erasing a 19-point home deficit to beat Iowa in the second half, the Cornhuskers scored three points in the first 11:36 of the second half by starting 1-for-18.
"We got some pretty good looks but after about the fourth missed layup, I think that (comeback) hope dissipated a great deal," said Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who was making his first return to the Kohl Center since coaching North Dakota State to a monumental upset seven years ago but likened this performance to the ‘Bad News Bears'. "You have to credit Wisconsin … They really affected some of our guys."
For the second straight game, guard Traevon Jackson finished with a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover radio, as Wisconsin had 19 assists to only eight turnovers. In comparison, Nebraska made only 20 field goals.
"For us to be successful, we need to make the extra pass," said Ryan. We're not known for having a guy who can explode consistency … Most of our offense comes from making the extra pass, hitting the guy when he's open."
Actually most of the success has come from the Badgers finding their identity, something that was still growing at the beginning of conference play that isn't an issue anymore.
"We're playing at a high level right now," said Berggren. "Last few games we've been able to win pretty big margins. More importantly you look at the quality of the play. Offensively we're playing at a high level. We're shooting better, which is why it looks so good. We're making hard cuts. We're being efficient.
"Defensively, we're getting things all on the same page and playing hard. Hopefully we can close things out in the Big Ten and hope for the best as far as the help we need to get a piece of the title."
All the dominoes fell right for No.17 Wisconsin Tuesday night. After an upset took down the conference first-place team, the Badgers crushed Nebraska, 77-46, to move out game out of first place in the loaded Big Ten conference.