Basketball vs. Wisconsin Photo No. 4

Nebraska’s Lat Mayen (11) dunks the ball during the game against Wisconsin at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska men’s basketball, in some sense of the word, is almost entirely opaque.

Without fail, sometime in the first half, the team suddenly goes cold. Despite holding a good game up until that point, most Nebraska games this season can be defined by two phases: before and after this cold spell.

Against Wisconsin, it was no different. Despite playing a strong game for 15 minutes, with Wisconsin still only three points ahead, Nebraska would only score once more for the rest of the half.

Five minutes isn’t a lot of time on its face, but during that period Wisconsin would extend its lead up to eight points and the game, from that point on, was basically over.

Cold streaks happen, but few are as predictable and devastating as the ones Nebraska suffer on a game-by-game basis. Yet, despite a rather large data pool to draw from now, tracing the reason for this confounds nearly everyone in the Nebraska program.

I thought we were off and running, and we were going to have a good half and then we got stagnant,” Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said postgame. “We took a couple bad shots and they went on a run and that has kind of been the theme.

The team’s form to open the game proved to be Nebraska’s lone bright spot. Seven minutes in, the Huskers were leading 16-11 and had only missed a few shots from either inside or outside the arc.

One of the team’s best plays all game came from senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr., who made it down to the baseline before finding junior forward Lat Mayen at the left corner for an open 3-pointer.

That being said, in these early stages of the game, the two teams were evenly matched. Wisconsin would score, and then the Huskers responded. When one side of the duel is ranked 11th in the nation, however, and the other has yet to win in its own conference, this state of affairs wasn’t likely to last.

Wisconsin senior guard Brad Davison was undeterred Thursday by the jeers from the Pinnacle Bank Arena student section, which mocked him every time he touched the ball and even sometimes when he was away from play.

It didn’t matter. It might’ve had the opposite effect, if anything. The guard finished with 21 points, the highest of the game for Wisconsin. In the first half alone he went 5-of-6 from beyond-the-arc, accounting for the bulk of his points.

Davison’s contribution was needed, too. Sophomore guard Johnny Davis, one of the top-performing players in all of college basketball, failed to score on five field-goal attempts in the first half. Though he’d manage a modest sum of 13 points by the end of the game, many of these were scored when Wisconsin were comfortably ahead.

“I think you move the ball, share it and don’t over dribble. Play inside out and then you got Wisconsin’s leading 3-point shooter shooting a lot of the threes,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said postgame.

Up 39-31 heading into the half, Wisconsin needed to prevent any strong Nebraska breakthroughs, especially to start the second, in order to make sure the game stayed over. 

Mayen subsequently found space under the basket for a thunderous dunk, potentially starting the comeback for the Huskers. That was, until Wisconsin led an 8-0 run and, up 47-33, coasted for the rest of the game.

It’d be a mistake to say it was all easy, of course. Unlike previous games where Nebraska folded in the second, the Huskers did enough to keep fans in the arena. Just as the margin crept out of reach, the Huskers would do enough to bring it down to single digits.

For example, with 10 minutes left in the game, freshman guard Bryce McGowens and his brother, junior guard Trey McGowens, together led a charge to take the score from 57-42down to 57-50. With the Badgers unable to score, Bryce McGowens took advantage and finished with 23 points, the most from any team.

In total, despite the scoreline and general disposition of the game, the two teams finished with remarkably similar field goal percentages. In fact, the Huskers outshot Wisconsin so long as just the percentages are considered.

The problem comes down to a few things, the most important being Wisconsin’s 3-point completion percentage. In the first half, where the game was decided, the Badgers shot 9-of-14 from beyond-the-arc.

Beyond that, however, Nebraska’s old enemy also felled it: giving up offensive rebounds. Wisconsin managed 13 such rebounds Thursday and scored seven points off them. More important than the points, however, it gave the team more chances to stop Nebraska’s transition game and slow down the pace of the game more tailored to Wisconsin’s style.

I feel like they got a lot of their three-point shots off of offensive rebounds so we cut down offensive rebounds,” Bryce McGowens said postgame. “We have to do a better job at rebounding on defense.”

Nebraska will look to win its first game in the Big Ten Saturday against Rutgers at PBA.