After shooting poorly earlier in the week against Virginia, Wisconsin found a way to right the ship at home Sunday afternoon.
Behind a 51.7 percent shooting effort from the field and a 14-0 run in the first half, Wisconsin (5-3) gave California (6-1) its first loss of the year, stomping the Golden Bears 81-56 in front of an announced crowd of 16,596 fans at the Kohl Center.
Leading the Badgers in an all-around effort was the solid play of Ben Brust, as the junior guard led all UW players in scoring with a team-high 22 points. Brust showed a little bit of everything against the Bears with his high-energy play, connecting on three of his six attempts from three-point range while also making a few circus layups.
Rounding out the offensive effort for the Badgers were the double-figure scoring efforts of Jared Berggren (18), Ryan Evans (13) and Sam Dekker (10).
It was a redeeming game on the boards for Wisconsin, which dropped a disappointing game at home to the Virginia Cavaliers Wednesday after shooting just 38 percent from the floor.
“There were a lot of the same looks; it’s just a matter of stepping up to the plate, being a man and finishing the play,” Brust said of the difference between the two games. “It was good that the looks were there again; we just have to finish throughout the year.”
Brust’s 9-for-13 shooting performance from the field exemplified the guard’s strong shot selection on clean, open looks – save for one circus layup and a three-pointer from three steps past half-court.
“I watched him as a junior and senior in high school trying to recruit him,” California head coach Mike Montgomery said. “Ben’s a deep shooter; we talked about the fact that you could not let him stand and shoot it deep on the catch and we obviously did not heed that.”
Wisconsin’s defense did a solid job containing Cal, outrebounding its adversary 36-30 and forcing 23 turnovers. The Badgers scored 25 points off the turnovers, the final difference between the two teams on the scoreboard.
But even though the margin of victory was large, the play of Wisconsin remained far from perfect.
The team struggled to keep 2012 first team all-Pac-12 guard Allen Crabbe from scoring as he pleased. Crabbe – who entered the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring at 22 per game – dropped 25 on the Badgers behind an 8-for-15 shooting performance.
The Badgers did manage to hold the Pac-12′s second leading scorer, junior guard Justin Cobbs, to just 11 points, well below his season average of 20.
Two areas where the program has excelled under head coach Bo Ryan, free throws and turnovers, were both lacking in Sunday’s game as well.
The team shot just 14-for-25 from the charity stripe, a measly 56 percent, with freshman sensation Dekker going 1-for-4 and Evans 3-for-6.
“In a game like this we had more free throws,” Ryan said. “There are certain guys you want on the free throw line more than others. On the turnovers … you have to live with it because (the game’s) already been played. But, can you do that night in and night out against teams that don’t extend out that much? No, you can’t end up with that many.”
Finding major minutes for Wisconsin off the bench again was freshman guard Zak Showalter. Showalter, whose father played for Ryan at UW-Platteville, continued to show tough-nosed play on defense Sunday, registering five points, three assists and a steal.
With Ryan still shuffling his starting lineup at the point guard position between George Marshall and Traevon Jackson, Showalter once again provided critical depth off the bench for Wisconsin.
“He plays the game with a passion,” Ryan said. “Like it matters to him, he cares, he wants to make something good happen. And he’s a spark plug, especially defensively at times. He’s a guy that has to give us good minutes.”
The Bears kept it close for just five minutes, holding a one-point lead until a layup by sophomore big man Frank Kaminsky made the score 7-6, as the Badgers orchestrated a 14-0 run that lasted more than four minutes.
Although Cal’s defensive pressure helped bring the deficit down to just 11 points in the opening minute of the second half, three-straight points from Evans and a three-pointer from Berggren provided the water to extinguish any proverbial fire the Bears tried to start.
“I know Bo Ryan’s teams well enough to know what you’re going to get when you come here,” Montgomery said. “When Virginia came in here and beat them we were going to get them at their best in terms of their effort and physicality. … I’m disappointed we lost our poise and didn’t compete.”
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