Wisconsin is a scary team when it shoots well. The Badgers are also a scary team when they shoot poorly. It’s just a different type of scary, one the Badgers can’t prefer.
That polarization was on full force at the Kohl Center, defining the two halves of basketball between Wisconsin and Indiana Tuesday night. It wound up being strong enough in the Badgers’ favor during the second half to lead Wisconsin in its 69-58 victory over the Hoosiers.
In doing so, it was another rendition displaying just how the Badgers (23-5, 10-5) win games at this point in the season. For Wisconsin, with an improved defense from the doldrums that garnered five losses in six games, winning games in February seems to depend almost directly on the Badgers’ shooting tendencies.
Although it ended well for UW, it didn’t begin pretty. That ugly pole of horror was on display for the first 20 minutes as Wisconsin netted just 19 points — trailing Indiana’s 29 — on seven buckets for a first half rate of just 25.9 percent.
The frustration could have prompted a furious Bo Ryan in the locker room, with his team down 10 to the unranked, struggling Hoosiers (15-12, 5-9).
“The halftime talk had nothing to do with threats, violence, none of that,” Ryan said. “It was, ‘We know what we can do, we’ve just gotta do it.’”
They did, and then some.
With their most prevalent three-point shooter Ben Brust continuing to struggle in the first half, it was almost too perfect that his spark lit the fire under the lifeless Badgers.
After missing all four attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, a trend of Brust bricks had swelled. Wisconsin’s sniper had made just one of his last 17 tries from distance over his last five halves of basketball.
But then he made one.
“I knew it was only a matter of time,” Brust said. “I knew it was going to start, so I was just like, ‘Can it just start now?’”
Just 45 seconds after he hit the first one, Brust squared away and connected on another. Thoughts of that scoreless first half were far from the Kohl Center.
No more than two-and-a-half minutes passed by before Brust hit his third triple of the second half. This one put Wisconsin up 41-38, a lead it would never surrender, largely because its shooting took off even stronger.
“It was definitely good to get a couple to go down,” Brust said. “I think it ignited this team and just trickled down to everyone else … It just kind of got us going and opened things up.”
Following Brust’s triad of triples, Wisconsin made six of its next nine shots, extending its lead to its highest point at 58-43, and just about everyone got involved.
Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig found a few layups before Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson found three pointers. In sum, Wisconsin shot nearly 62 percent in the second half — going 13-for-21 from the field. After just a 1-for-10 performance from beyond the arc in the putrid first half, the Badgers made six of 11 threes in the final 20 minutes.
When a team is clicking like the Badgers were in that second half, pressure was sure to increase for the visiting Hoosiers. An array of Badgers’ buckets can seemingly tighten the rim on the opposite end of the floor as Indiana tried to keep pace.
Then as they rushed to get stops on the defensive end, Wisconsin’s end of the floor seemed a little more wide open each time. Their shooting percentage justly followed suit.
“A lot of times you’re getting ready for one or two guys to be very good passers. Their whole team is,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “The bottom line is: They got some good looks because we were in rotation a little bit.
“They got hot. The basket started looking pretty big for them.”
Coupled with a defense that didn’t allow a single 30-point half — which they did twice when in losing fashion during the January game in Bloomington, Ind. — Wisconsin’s hot shooting now seems good enough to take them wherever they please.
“When the ball goes through the hoop, it makes a lot of things easier,” Dekker said. “People think it’s some crazy magic that happened, but no. We made shots and made some plays … we just ran our plays and it worked.”