When it rained, it poured for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team Tuesday night. And unfortunately for Nebraska-Omaha, streaky shooting was more than enough for the Badgers to subdue their opponent early in their 86-40 win at the Kohl Center.
After Wisconsin (6-3) emerged from an early three-point deficit, a 20-2 Badgers’ run that began in the opening minutes and lasted beyond the midway point of the first half made sure there was never again a question as to who was in control of the game.
Critical to that stretch was the player who has turned into a familiar face atop the UW box score: Ben Brust.
Brust led the team in both points and rebounds with 15 and 10, respectively, as the 6-foot-1 guard finished with his fourth double-double of the season. He continued to sink pull-up three-pointers several feet behind the arc and finished 4-of-8 from long distance on the night.
“Not for us,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said when asked if it’s possible to defend Brust’s long-range attempts. “Maybe Tom Izzo can, I can’t. But that makes it difficult, because there were three or four times tonight where I thought we followed our scout pretty well, made a guy take a shot, made one, but then they pulled up in transition.
“When he hits them that deep, tip your hat and move forward.”
By halftime the game was all but decided after Nebraska-Omaha managed only eight points in the final 16:45 of the opening period to hand UW a 29-point lead at the break. Five Badger players ended the game in double figures, but the most surprising name to surpass that mark Tuesday night was sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky.
Kaminsky, who many fans expected to have a breakout season, is averaging just 10.6 minutes per game this year, but looked aggressive posting up in the paint and finished with a season-high 11 points. Sinking four of his six shots from the floor along with a three-pointer, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said Kaminsky looked more comfortable on the floor.
“I think he’s felling a lot better, I think he’s getting some of his energy back,” Ryan said. “I study my players quite a bit and I can tell … a player always feels they’re ready to go, but coaches have this gut feeling about things and I just felt he wasn’t quite ready to get the kind of minutes that hopefully he can contribute for us down the road here.”
Hansen, whose team was in the midst of a brutal 12-day, five-game road trip, admitted that his team was tired and overmatched. In just their second year competing at the Division I level after moving from Division II, the Mavericks’ head coach said Wisconsin’s size and skill allowed them to take over the game.
And that physical advantage was most clear on the glass, where UW outrebounded UNO by a 49-26 margin.
On the defensive end of the floor, the Badgers continued to show marked improvement from a loss to Virginia muddled with defensive errors six days before. Brust and Co. held the Mavericks’ leading scorer Justin Simmons to 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting and kept the dynamic guard without an assist.
“Trying to force him into tough shots,” Berggren said of how the defense kept Simmons off-balance. “If he was coming off ball screens, show a little help, guards stay on the chase with him, try to force him into a tough shot.”
In the ongoing battle for the top point guard spot, sophomore Traevon Jackson earned his third-straight start and edged George Marshall by six minutes in the game. But the two shot a combined 0-of-7 on three-pointers and 3-of-11 from the floor, a game that Ryan said showed just how big the drop off has been after the departure of former star point guard Jordan Taylor.
But Wisconsin did not need any help from its point guards against UNO, as freshmen Sam Dekker and Zak Showalter each proved efficient from the floor and closed the game with 10 and seven points, respectively. Dekker again provided an early lift off the bench and helped UW overcome a sluggish start to eventually claim its largest lead of the game came as time expired.
After the demoralizing loss to Virginia, Tuesday was Wisconsin’s second-straight victory by 25 points or more -momentum the team will need to carry into a battle with in-state rival Marquette in Milwaukee Saturday.
“I think all three losses, even with the Virginia game, they still were eating away at us,” Brust said. “So there’s definitely some things, especially in the Virginia game, that just stuck with us and I know a lot of guys took that personally.”