Wisconsin trailed for only 13 seconds Wednesday night, and after evening the score at 2-2, the Badgers never looked back as they dominated a tired Cal Poly team 90-42.
UW opened the game on a 33-6 run over the first 11 minutes as the Mustangs’ defense was not enough to cool the Badgers’ hot shooting early on. Over that period, Wisconsin hit 13 of its first 16 shots, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.
It was exactly the opposite of the start Cal Poly had hoped for.
“We actually said that the only real chance we felt like (we’d win) is if we had one of those nights where we shot 60-65 percent from the perimeter and they shot 25 percent,” Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. “We knew there were a couple guys that we’d have to cheat off of, and the guys that we cheated off went ahead and knocked down some threes.”
Callero’s squad cheated off Wisconsin’s big men, forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, who both made them pay with big shots from long distance. In the first half, the duo put up 11 and 10 points, respectively, while hitting a combined 3-of-5 shots from 3-point range.
Leuer came up two rebounds shy of his third consecutive double-double, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes of play. The 6-foot-10 native of Long Lake, Minn., had just four points in the second half in just nine minutes of play, however, but his play on the night again showed his continual improvement as a post player.
“Whenever I’m out there, if I get a chance, if an opportunity presents itself to make a play, I’m just going to try to make a play,” Leuer said. “Whether that’s attacking the rim or drawing help and finding my teammates, like I said, I’m just trying to be aggressive.”
Nankivil didn’t do much damage in the second either, attempting zero field goals after halftime and adding just two points from the line for a total of 12 on the night. After putting up just four field goals in the last three games, however, a 12-point night for the Madison native was a good sign for the cardinal and white.
“He was comfortable,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “I think they only saw films other than Purdue last year because he was open quite a bit. But sometimes you say, ‘OK, that guy’s got to prove he can hit the shot from out there again, because Keaton hasn’t been doing that maybe lately as much as maybe before.
“So you pick your poison and him knocking those shots down [was] pretty good.”
As has often been the case lately for Wisconsin, though, senior guard Trevon Hughes was the star of the show as the Badgers cruised to a 48-point victory.
Hughes, a 6-foot native of Queens, N.Y., scored 20 points while pulling down six rebounds, dishing out three assists and grabbing four steals. The co-captain shot 7-of-10 from the floor on the night, including a perfect 6-for-6 in the first half and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc on the night.
With just 5 1/2 minutes into the game, Hughes added to his list of accomplishments this season when he hit a jumper to put the Badgers up 15-4.
Though he thought it should have been a three, the long 2-point basket gave him nine points on the night, and 1,000 in his career a Badger. Hughes became the 34th player in school history to reach the 1,000-point mark and the first since Marcus Landry in 2008-09.
“It was like a big weight off my shoulders,” Hughes said. “Obviously, I came out tonight and I couldn’t miss the in the first half, the only thing that slowed me down was halftime. We had a joke about it at lunch today — me, Keaton (Nankivil) and J-Bo (Jason Bohannon) — because they reminded me that I was just nine points away.
“I was like, ‘alright, I’ll try to get it in the first two minutes.’ And literally, like I almost did.”
After jumping out to a 33-6 lead, the Badgers headed to the locker room up 51-19, giving UW its highest-scoring first half since putting up 52 in the first half of a 98-40 win over Gardner-Webb in 2006.
The 19 points allowed for UW matched a season-low, as they also allowed just 19 before the break against Grambling State 11 days earlier.
In the second half, UW cooled off a bit, shooting just 56.5 percent after lighting it up for 64.3 percent in the first half. Wisconsin finished with 90 points for the first time since that same game in 2006, though, as they scored 39 points in the second half.
Ryan was happy his team remained focused throughout, despite the large margin.
“You’re not thinking of the other team when you are doing your thing and you’re not thinking about the score,” he said. “You’re just thinking about playing the game the way it should be played all the time. I thought our guys did a pretty good job of that tonight and it’s still about doing the right things.”