Wisconsin provided the Nebraska football team with a rude welcome to the Big Ten Conference with a 48-17 victory in early October.
The Badgers' basketball team baptized the Huskers in similar fashion Tuesday night, completely shutting down the NU offense en route to a 64-40 win.
The opening five minutes gave hope to the crowd of 10,812 at the Devaney Center. Senior guard Toney McCray hit a 3-pointer on NU's first possession and the Huskers took a 10-7 lead into the first media timeout.
The next seven and a half minutes told a completely different story. The Huskers endured one of their patented scoring droughts and the Badgers went on a 17-2 run over that span, establishing a lead NU couldn't overcome.
The Huskers' 14 second-half points killed any hopes NU had of a second-half comeback.
"I'm really concerned right now about how we're going to score with this basketball team," head coach Doc Sadler said. "You're not going to beat anybody scoring 40 points."
Defense had been No. 11 Wisconsin's calling card coming into the game, as the Badgers ranked among the nation's best in both scoring and field goal defense. The Huskers didn't do anything to change that perception, shooting just 30.6 percent for the game, including 20.8 percent after intermission.
Other than brief runs made by the Huskers at the beginning of each half, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was proud of his team's effort defensively.
"What the heck were we doing for the first three or four minutes of each half?" Ryan said. "After that, I'd say that's our best performance of the year."
Part of NU's struggles stemmed from the absence of junior center Jorge Brian Diaz and junior guard Dylan Talley, two of the team's leading scorers. Each warmed up before the game but didn't play due to injuries.
That took depth away from an already thin team, and Sadler rode his starters hard, playing each 32 minutes or more. The bench didn't contribute any points in a combined 23 minutes.
Sadler knows he can't depend that heavily on his starters, but with the game slipping away in the second half, he didn't know where to turn.
"We just don't have the bodies," Sadler said. "You can't play these guys 36, 35, 37 minutes. You just can't do it. We've got to get some positive production out of some guys that aren't quite ready to play yet, but we've got to play them."
Wisconsin's playing style didn't do NU any favors. The Badgers employed a slow offense, rarely shooting with more than 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
Junior forward Brandon Ubel admitted that technique sapped the Huskers' energy and probably contributed to the poor shooting performance on the other end.
"They just put us on D for 30 seconds then hit a shot as the buzzer sounded," Ubel said. "You have to come down and we didn't hit shots, then they'd come down and grind us again. They knew what they were doing and executed it to perfection."
McCray kept the Huskers in the game in the first half, scoring 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. But he didn't score again after hitting two free throws early in the second half, missing all five of his second-half shots.
The Badgers also locked down senior point guard Bo Spencer, NU's leading scorer. Spencer couldn't escape his recent shooting slump, hitting just two of his 11 attempts for five points.
"Defensively I think that's about the best we've played a guy of his caliber this year," Ryan said.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, they'll likely see more of what they got Tuesday from the rest of the new conference. The Big Ten is filled with defensive-minded teams with patient offenses, and Sadler wants his team to play the same way.
He said his team took way too many quick shots, and if they continue to do that, the results won't change.
"The number of shots we took with 15 or more seconds on the shot clock… if we're going to continue to do that, we're going to continue to get our brains beat out," he said. "This league's not going to let you do that. You ain't getting possessions in this league. You'd better have some efficiency. You'd better have more shots under 10 seconds than over 10 seconds if you're going to win in this league."
Around the rim
***Nebraska saw its season-long four-game winning streak snapped in tonight's loss to the Badgers
***The Huskers' 40 points is a season low and fewest since scoring 39 against Oklahoma State on March 8, 2007.
***Nebraska's 14 second-half points is the lowest half total by a Husker team since scoring 11 points against Creighton (first half) on Dec. 11, 2006.
***McCray reached double figures for the third straight game with a team-high 16 points and set a season-high with nine rebounds. McCray has tied or set season best in rebounds in each of the last three games and is averaging 15.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game over the last three games.