If there were any doubts that Wisconsin is a legitimate offensive threat, they were buried within the first 20 minutes of its game with Illinois Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers opened up the game on a 14-0 run thanks to seven quick points from redshirt senior center Jared Berggren, eventually extending their lead to 31-7 in the game’s first 15 minutes and never looking back.
Wisconsin out-rebounded Illinois 43-24, racking up 18 offensive boards, a ghastly number for Illini head coach John Groce considering the Badgers racked up 23 points off second chances.
“I thought [Wisconsin] dominated every facet of the game, especially in the first half,” Groce said. “At the end of the day their competitive spirit was better than ours to start the game. That is unacceptable.”
It was a complete 180 for an Illinois team who hung tough with the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the country, Minnesota, on Wednesday, only allowing seven offensive rebounds.
“We were hungry on the glass, and it showed,” redshirt senior Mike Bruesewitz said, who recorded eight rebounds on the game.
Berggren recorded the first double-double of his career, with a team best 15 points and leading all players with 12 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Traevon Jackson recorded a career-high 14 points against the Illini, while freshman Sam Dekker and redshirt senior Ryan Evans scored 13 and 10 points, respectively.
A key part of the offensive explosion by UW, Berggren was a force all-day on both ends of the court, making several tips on rebounds for baskets and bringing in seven offensive rebounds, including an alley-oop from Dekker to bring the lead to 29-7 in the first half and send the Kohl Center into a frenzy. Berggren also recorded two blocks on the game, giving him a Big Ten-best 33 on the season.
“It’s about time,” Berggren said with a smile about his double-double. “Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Dekker and Evans provided some fireworks in the second half with a pair of electrifying dunk. Dekker’s came at the 11:10 mark of the second half following his own steal, as he took the ball coast-to-coast and finished with a one-hand slam.
Evans came just thirty seconds in to the second half, driving to the hoop with a man draped over him and throwing a two-handed slam over his defender.
The forward also found support from the crowd, as deafening cheers from the Badger faithful greeted a pair of made free-throws by the redshirt senior, who entered the game shooting just 36 percent from the charity stripe.
Wisconsin held Illinois to just 26 percent shooting in the first half and 35 for the entire game, including star Illini guard Brandon Paul to just 1-for-11 from the field.
Paul finished with just eight points on the day, well below his season average of 18 points per game.
The Badgers and head coach Bo Ryan mainly put Bruesewitz on Paul, as the red-headed forward chased Paul for most of the game all over the court, shadowing him consistently and forcing Paul to take contested shot after contested shot.
“He stuck to our rules,” Ryan said of his senior’s defensive performance. “We had some things we were trying to do and I would say [Mike] graded out pretty well…He did his job.”
The Illini tried to make things interesting in the second half where they turned on a full-court trap, but the Badgers handled a series of six turnovers and questionable-calls in a three-minute span in the second half in stride, as their opponents were only able to get the lead under 20 points in the second half once.
Six Badgers made a three-pointer against the Illini and shot 10-for-23 as a team from beyond the arc. Dekker enjoyed a career high three makes from deep, shooting 3-of-6.
“That’s as well as we’ve probably, for a total of 40 minutes against that caliber of a team, played this year,” Ryan said.