MADISON, Wis. — The way Nebraska designed its defensive strategy against Wisconsin, collapsing its 2-3 zone to eliminate close-range looks, the Huskers knew they’d be giving up some open jump shots.
They just didn’t plan on Wisconsin making so many.
But the Badgers were more than comfortable shooting over NU’s zone all night Wednesday, connecting on 11 of their 18 3-pointers in a 72-61 win. They made their first four 3-pointers out of halftime and added two more in successive possessions five minutes later to effectively seal their sixth straight victory.
“We were getting them to take the shots we wanted,” coach Tim Miles said on the Husker Sports Network.
Miles conceded that perhaps some different tactics would have been more effective against Wisconsin, but his options were limited without senior Shavon Shields and freshman Ed Morrow. Shields missed the trip after suffering that scary head injury Saturday. Morrow, who didn’t play Wednesday, practiced for about 20 total minutes Monday and Tuesday, Miles said.
Plus, the Badgers (15-9, 7-4) came into the game shooting just 34.4 percent from 3-point range during league play, ranked 10th in the conference. Their last time out, they did make a season-high 13 3-pointers — but they’d been a combined 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) in the two games before that.
They changed Wednesday’s matchup with their sharpshooting, though. So much so, they practically gave up attacking inside the paint altogether.
Of Wisconsin’s final 10 field goal attempts in the first half, nine were either 3-pointers or midrange shots. The Badgers made seven.
They remained hot to begin the second half. They shot eight 3-pointers, a midrange jumper and a layup in the first nine minutes. They missed both attempts inside the arc — but connected on 6 of 8 beyond it.
By then, they had complete control of the game, leading 51-38. Nebraska (13-12, 5-7) never got closer than 10 after that.
“We kind of, I think, let the fact that the score wasn’t in our favor — or we weren’t as close as we had been — affect us, unnecessarily,” Miles said.
But it wasn’t easy for Nebraska to find much rhythm offensively without its best shot-maker. Shields averages 15.7 points per game and leads the team with 70 assists. He’d started 106 consecutive games before Wednesday.
Without him, the Huskers finished with their lowest point total in more than two months. They shot 40.7 percent from the field. They made just 4 of 13 3-point attempts. Miles said Nebraska finished 5-of-16 on its shots at the rim.
“We were soft inside,” Miles said. “You have to play with an enormous amount of force inside, and power, to play imbalanced, and to be able to finish through guys and over guys.”
Nebraska did pull within six points at the 13:33 mark in the second half, but after a Wisconsin made free throw, the Huskers turned the ball over on their next trip downcourt and misfired on a jump shot on the possession after that.
There were some positives, though.
“I think that our kids were closer to being a good team and having a way to win that game than maybe anybody realizes,” Miles said.
» Junior Andrew White played just 11 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. NU was outscored 19-10 when he went to the bench with two fouls at the 8:24 mark. White finished with 10 points.
» Sophomore Jake Hammond contributed two points, four rebounds and two blocks in nine minutes of action before halftime. But he had three fouls and two turnovers in six second-half minutes.
» Big Ten opponents are now shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range against Nebraska. No other conference team is giving up a higher percentage in league action.
» There was no new report on Shavon Shields’ status Wednesday. Miles indicated that Shields is still progressing through Nebraska’s concussion protocol. It’s unknown how long Shields will be out. The Huskers return home to play Penn State on Saturday.