Shortly following Nebraska's blowout loss at Ohio State earlier this week, head coach Tim Miles went on record saying he thought Sunday's Big Ten home opener against Wisconsin was a winnable game for the Huskers.
Had NU been able to muster up any sort of offensive consistency, he may have been right.
Even with a dismal shooting display by the Badgers, Nebraska couldn't find a way to take advantage and dropped to 0-2 in league play with a 47-41 loss. After the game, Miles said he was obviously disappointed with NU's missed opportunity, but was encouraged by the improved overall effort his team showed compared to the loss at OSU.
"I told the guys in the locker room, I can live with that effort," Miles said. "I can. That's got to be what our identity looks like, that kind of team that's out there scrapping and fighting. I can live with that."
"Any time that you've got a tough home game and you've got a chance to be successful, and the last five or so minutes don't go your way, you feel like that," Miles added. "It's going to be tough for this team to have one where you have a quality team coming in and you've got a chance to beat them and you don't. You're sick to your stomach. But this sick to my stomach I can live as compared to the sick to my stomach after the Ohio State game."
Offense came at a premium for both teams during the first half, as it took nearly 13 minutes before both teams broke the 10-point mark to start the game.
The lead didn't get any higher than two on either side until Wisconsin's Sam Dekker hit a 3-pointer with 10:20 to go in the half to put the Badgers up 11-8. The Huskers certainly didn't help matters by going more than six and a half minutes without scoring a point.
After Wisconsin took its biggest lead of the half on another basket by Dekker to go up 16-12 with 4:25 to go, a 3 by senior forward Brandon Ubel and a steal and lay-up by junior guard Ray Gallegos made it a 19-19 tie going into halftime.
Nebraska out-shot Wisconsin from the field 41 percent to 26 percent, but the Badgers held a 6-0 edge in offensive rebounds to give them enough second-chance opportunities to control the majority of the first half.
Ubel scored seven of his 10 points in the opening half, while senior guard Dylan Talley had NU's first six points of the game and finished with team high of 12.
"We thought we had a rhythm and we thought we were going to pull away, but they're a tough team, so it was a grind-it-out type of game," Talley said. "They force you to grind it out. They run the shot clock down every time down, so they limit your possessions. It's just the type of game it was."
The Huskers took the lead on an And-1 by freshman Shavon Shields on the first possession of the second half and led for the majority of the next 10 minutes. They were never able to pull away by more than three points during that stretch, though, especially because Wisconsin discovered a huge advantage with senior forward/center Jared Berggren in the low post.
Berggren scored 12 of the Badgers' first 18 points of the second half to almost single-handily keep them within one possession and eventually take a 35-31 lead with 9:45 remaining on, what else, two straight baskets by Berggren, who finished with 13 points.
Nebraska came right back and reclaimed the lead at 36-35 on a basket and foul by Talley and then a jumper by Gallegos. That momentum wouldn't last long, though, as the Huskers would score just two points over the next seven minutes to allow UW to go back up 44-38 with less than two minutes to play.
Just as fans were starting to clear for the exits, Ubel kept things interesting with a 3-pointer to make it 44-41 with one minute left in the game. Any hopes of comeback quickly fell short, as Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson hit a jumper with 32 seconds to go and the Huskers failed to convert their next trip down court.
"We were right there," Talley said. "We felt we should've won the game, but we didn't. They're a good team. It's the Big Ten; you're going to have days like this. Sometimes you're going to come out on top, sometimes you're not. You've got to keep on fighting."
Gallegos finished with 12 points while Shields added eight rebounds for the Huskers. Ryan Evans led the Badgers with a game-high 10 points and 15 rebounds.
Things won't get any easier for Nebraska from here, either, as it now has two straight difficult road tests up next at No. 2 Michigan on Wednesday and then at No. 18 Michigan State next Sunday.
As rough as the start of the Big Ten season has gone for the Huskers so far, they know the only thing they can do is continue to playing and hope to eventually catch a break or two.
"Just keep our head up and keep fighting," Talley said. "We've got to stay with the same energy we came out with today. Keep that tough mindset, that road warrior mentality when we go on the road these next two games. They're going to be two grind-it -out games too, but that's how it is."
Around the rim
***Senior center Andre Almeida (ankle) was listed as questionable going into the game and did not play, but Miles said he wasn't officially scratched from the lineup until a few minutes in.
"The only reason Andre wasn't in there was I just felt like he was still a little limited mobility-wise, and the way they play five shooters so much, I just didn't think he was going to be in a position to be successful, nor would our team," Miles said. "I didn't decide that until about seven or eight minutes into the game. I looked at the clock and I'm just looking out there, and I just went with a gut feeling. That was just my decision. It wasn't made previously, it was made in-game."
***A jumper by sophomore David Rivers early in the second half were Nebraska's only two points off the bench in the loss. Wisconsin's out-scored NU 12-2 in bench points.
***Wisconsin dominated the paint for the most part all day with a 28-14 edge in points in the paint and an 8-3 advantage on the offensive glass.
***Shields made his first career start today, the first time in 15 games NU used a different starting lineup. With Shields and Benny Parker in the lineup, it marked the first time since 2009-10 that the Huskers started two freshmen in a game.
"I thought (Shields) did a lot of really good things," Miles said. "He was involved in a lot of really critical plays… and I thought in the second half primarily he did a lot of really good things for us too."
***Nebraska held Wisconsin to a season-low 47 points, the eighth opponent it's held under 60 points this season.
***The Huskers lost for the first time in eight games when getting three or more players into double figures.
***Nebraska was held to 36.7 percent and is now 1-6 this season when shooting less than 40 percent from the field.