Just three days after picking up its best win of the Big Ten Conference season over Iowa, Nebraska knew it would need an even more impressive performance to have a chance at knocking off No. 16 Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
It became clear from the opening minutes though that the Badgers had absolutely zero interest in letting that happen.
With arguably the hottest shooting performance by an NU opponent this season, Wisconsin had the Huskers on their heels from the opening tip and never slowed down the rest of the night in a 77-46 drubbing in Madison.
When all was said and done, UW had shot 50.9 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range, even with nine bench players seeing action in the game. The 31-point margin was Nebraska's largest defeat of the season, topping the 29-point loss it suffered at Minnesota on Jan. 29.
"Maybe the Iowa hangover so to speak had an effect? I don't know," head coach Tim Miles said during his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "The fact is we weren't good enough tonight. We didn't play with enough pride. We didn't represent ourselves the way I would expect us to. I was just extremely disappointed."
After Wisconsin connected on two straight 3-pointers to open the game, Nebraska was able to settle things down and eventually take its first lead of the night at 10-8 with 13:50 to go after a nice 10-2 run. That would be as good as things would get for the Huskers in the rest of the night, though.
The Badgers, known more for their stingy defense than prolific scoring, seemingly could not miss through the first 20 minutes, and they quickly reclaimed the lead with a dominating 27-4 run of their own. After a 3 by freshman Sam Dekker with 5:32 left in the half to cap off the run and make it 35-14, UW had made 13 of its first 21 shots from the field and 8-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Senior Dylan Talley stopped the bleeding temporarily with seven unanswered points to cut the deficit down to 14, but Wisconsin closed the half on a 9-2 run and led by as much as 23 before going into halftime with a 44-23 advantage.
When all was said and done, the Badgers had shot 16-of-27 from the floor and 8-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half, while Nebraska was just 10-of-28 and 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Even more impressive was Wisconsin had 13 assists on its 16 made field goals.
Dekker was 5-of-6 from long range in the game and had 13 of his career-high 19 points in the first half, and he was one of six UW players with a 3-pointer on the night. Talley had 12 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, but he was about the only Husker to see any sort of success early on.
"It was disappointing," Miles said. "There's no doubt about it. Early they came out and jumped on us, made 3s, and that's the one thing - if Wisconsin makes 3s, they can really hurt you in a lot of different ways because their ball movement and player movement is so good. They've got a lot of guys - Ben Brust moves without the ball so well, Ryan Evans moves without the ball so well, Mike Bruesewitz moves so well without the ball; even their centers move well without the ball.
"We knew we were going to be short-handed without Andre (Almeida) and that knee sprain, and so we needed guys to stay out of foul trouble, and maybe that kind of messed with us, I don't know. But when you're starting to look for answers like that, I think that's all kind of poor excuses. We just weren't ready to compete the way we needed to be successful. Against a team this good - what are they, 63-2 against non-ranked Big Ten teams here (at home)? There's a reason for that."
The second half certainly didn't get any better for the Huskers, as they went the first six minutes after halftime before scoring a single point and had just three points through the first 12 minutes of the half. Meanwhile, Wisconsin extended its lead to as much as 38 points and hardly slowed down even after clearing its bench for most of the final eight minutes.
Senior forward Brandon Ubel had 10 points and six rebounds before fouling out late in the game, but no other Husker scored more than six points in the loss. Evans had 14 points and seven boards for the Badgers, while Brust hit 3-of-5 3-pointers to finish with 13 points.
After the win over Iowa, the Huskers had been talking about keeping their hopes of qualifying for the NIT alive by closing their final four regular season games out strong. Now reeling from the crushing blow delivered by Wisconsin on Tuesday night, Nebraska is more concerned with building back up whatever confidence it has left moving forward.
"First of all, I asked the guys (in the locker room after the game), I said, 'You have a voice in this thing. I want to know. I want you seniors to write on the board where are we at with this,'" Miles said. "One of the interesting things the guys wrote was we let their good offense drain our energy. We let that really affect us. You just can't do that. You've got to play the best you can and when things go against you you've got to ratchet up the energy, not drop the energy. You can't be that easily defeated. Life's going to be really long if you let it be that way."
Nebraska returns to action on Saturday when it travels to take on Illinois, with tip-off set for 4:15 p.m. CT on the Big Ten Network.
"That's the glory of college basketball, is you've got another one four days later," Miles said. "We just have to bounce back and give it our best shot and find a way to get back on track."