The defending Big Ten tournament champs wonâ€™t be cutting down the nets for a second-straight year, as the 11th-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers used a suffocating defense and just enough offense to send the 6th-seeded Wisconsin Badgers packing, 70-58.
Nebraska got 20 points from 2nd team All-Big Ten wing Shavon Shields and held Wisconsin to just 30 percent shooting from the field en route to pulling off the upset.
It wasnâ€™t just bad shooting by Wisconsin either, as the Huskers defense was pesky all night long. Just how pesky? Wisconsinâ€™s star juniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were a combined 5-27 (.185) shooting from the field.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ led all Badgers, scoring 17 points in the loss. He got some help from Vitto Brown, who used a hot first half to rack up most of his 16-point night. Despite the difficult night from the field, Hayes got to the line plenty and ended the night in double figures (1o points) as did Koenig (11 points).
Slow starts are nothing new for the Badgers, but slow halfâ€™s of basketball? Not so much.
Yet, on Thursday night a combination of sluggish play and great Nebraska defense meant one of the worst halfâ€™s of basketball this season. Ironically, the start wasnâ€™t so slow for Wisconsin as they hit three triples and a free throw to lead 9-7 with 14:23 to play in the half.
However, it was all downhill from there for the Badgers. Wisconsin would not see the lead again the half and the usual cast of characters were stymied by a suffocating Nebraska interior defense.
UWâ€™s three-headed monster of Happ, Hayes and Koenig wound up with just 8 combined points on 2-16 shooting from the field. Hayes and Koenig contributed next to nothing, only scoring from the free throw line and combining to shoot a combined 0-9 from the field.
As a team, Wisconsin finished the first half shooting 29 percent from the field and just 3-10 from deep. Much of the credit needed to go to Nebraska and their 2-3 zone defensive switch in the half. The Badgers simply couldnâ€™t shoot them out of it and couldnâ€™t figure out how to play inside-out without turning the ball over either.
Making matters worse, Wisconsin committed seven turnovers. However, two things were in UWâ€™s favor despite all that bad news â€” Vitto Brown and a lack of Huskers scoring off turnovers.
Brown finished the first half with 13 points on 5-5 shooting, while going a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc.
Nebraska couldnâ€™t turn the seven forced turnovers in to much of advantage, scoring just five points off those turnovers.
Given all of that, it would be somewhat surprising to see the Badgers down just 26-21 at the half â€” but, thatâ€™s exactly what the score was heading in to the half.
Following some regrouping, the Badgers took advantage of getting to the bucket and Nebraskaâ€™s inability to hit a bucket. The combination of a Huskersâ€™ 7-plus minute field goal drought, that dated back to the first half, and Happ and Hayes getting inside saw UW erase its five-point halftime deficit and take a 29-27 lead.
It was only a temporary resurgence though, as Nebraska got itself back together on offense and defense. The Huskers went on an 11-4 run to leak out to a 38-33 lead with 12:03 to play in the game.
From that point on the two teams traded a few and-1 plays and some hard-earned points from the free throw line. Ultimately though the Huskersâ€™ 5-point advantage was just too much for Wisconsin to overcome down the final 10 minutes of the game.
Wisconsin tried mightily to cut in to the lead, and accomplished it on multiple occasions. However, the Huskers had an answer every time the game came within a bucket and just extended it too far out of reach for the Badgers.
It leaves UW to regroup after back-to-back losses for the first time since losing three straight to Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern early in Big Ten play.