After Wisconsin and Nebraska averaged 37.2 percent shooting Sunday afternoon, Bo Ryan joked about challenging Tim Miles to a game of H-O-R-S-E, so the two coaches could show their players how to make shots.
“Of course, in H-O-R-S-E,” said Ryan, the Wisconsin coach, “you’re not being guarded.”
That, in short, was the glass half-full approach Ryan was taking after his Badgers defeated Nebraska 47-41 in a grueling game that elicited jokes about peach baskets, ladders and jump balls.
Ryan, who’s built his Wisconsin teams on playing sound defense and executing long, grinding possessions, said both teams played extremely well on defense.
“I don’t think there’s any other way you can describe this game,” he said.
Uh, well, some of the 8,258 fans in attendance at the Devaney Sports Center may have a few other suggestions after seeing a game that was tied 19-19 — at halftime.
It's the lowest-scoring game the building has seen since a 46-41 Nebraska victory against Colorado in 2009.
Of course, it’s not the first time Nebraska (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) has had offensive difficulties. The Huskers, last in the Big Ten Conference in scoring, are averaging 46.1 points in their six losses.
“We’re challenged offensively, regardless,” said Miles, the Nebraska coach. “So against a really good defensive team like Wisconsin, it doesn’t surprise me that we’re in the 40s.”
Nebraska went through scoring droughts of 6:14 in the first half and 5:16 in the second half. Senior forward Brandon Ubel ended the latter drought with a three-pointer — his second of the game, and his third of the season — with a minute left in the game.
That pulled the Huskers within 44-41, but guard Traevon Jackson hit a jumper in the lane to push the Badgers’ lead back to five points with 32 seconds to play, and Wisconsin (11-4, 2-0) held on for its first true road victory of the season.
Nebraska was 9-of-27 from the field in the second half.
“I thought we had some looks,” Miles said. “My regret is, did we take too many outside shots? We had a couple of outside shots that were actually designed to be drive plays, that they just felt like they were open.
“They were, and we just shot and missed.”
Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley scored 12 points apiece to pace Nebraska, while Ubel finished with 10.
“It was tough, but Wisconsin always plays tough defense,” Talley said. “They want to contest threes, and they do a good job of not fouling at the rim. They use their size and are disciplined not to foul.”
Jared Berggren scored 12 of his team-high 13 points in the second half to pace Wisconsin. The 6-foot-10 senior forward had eight points in a four-minute stretch, helping turn a 27-24 Nebraska lead into a 35-31 Wisconsin advantage.
“He just gave us life,” Ryan said. “Thank goodness, he’s starting to get a rhythm, get a feel, and somebody’s starting to put the ball through the net."
Nebraska rallied to take its last lead, 38-37, on a Gallegos jumper with 6:16 remaining, but Ryan Evans, who had 10 points and 15 rebounds, answered with a three-point play to put the Badgers ahead to stay.
The Huskers didn’t make another field goal until Ubel’s final three-pointer.
“I told the guys in the locker room, I can live with that effort. I can,” said Miles, who was upset after his team’s lack of hustle in a loss Wednesday at Ohio State. “I mean, that’s got to be what our identity looks like: the kind of team that’s out there scrapping and fighting.
“I can live with that. I’m disappointed in the loss.”
* Nebraska senior center Andre Almeida, who suffered an ankle injury Wednesday, suited up but didn’t play. Miles said he didn’t decide to not play Almeida until seven or eight minutes into the game.
“I just felt like he was still a little limited mobilitywise," Miles said, "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.”
* Freshman Shavon Shields started in place of Almeida and grabbed eight rebounds to go with three points.
* Wisconsin, 13-of-26 on free throws in a victory Thursday against Penn State, attempted 13 free throws Sunday, and made only three. Quipped Ryan after looking at a stat sheet: “That’s not a misprint? I thought it was at least four.”