MADISON, Wisc. — Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez ambled down the bleachers, the clang of metal echoing in an empty Kohl Center.
Two security guards shielded the public from the court, but Alvarez walked past both with a small nod, a grin pasted on his face as he picked at popcorn on a stroll across the hardwood.
A buttery kernel fell. Alvarez didn’t seem to mind. The show he just saw -- the one that played out Tuesday when his Badgers knocked in a school-record 18 3-pointers in an 82-68 win over Nebraska -- was too good to worry about much else.
“Give them credit,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They shot the ball, obviously, at a very high level tonight.”
Wisconsin entered Tuesday eighth in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage and seventh in 3-pointers made. But the rim looked like Lake Mendota — which surrounds campus — to the Badgers, and every rock toss seemed to splash on Tuesday. Eight Badgers hit a 3; four made two or more. Brad Davison won the contest, making 4 of 9 and scoring a team-high 14 points with six rebounds.
Nebraska, now 7-12 on the season with four straight losses, was within one at halftime after Cam Mack and Dachon Burke put on a 20-minute show. But a 20-4 Wisconsin burst out of halftime stretched the Wisconsin lead out to as many as 17. Nebraska cut it down to six, but for the third straight time, dug a hole too deep to climb out of.
"I mean, Wisconsin, they played a great game,” Burke said. “They made tough shots. You know, they made 18 3s, but they had probably 10 or 11 that were heavily contested. So, you know, you really couldn’t do much else as a player.”
The NU defense — packed in tight to clog up the lane — didn’t close out fast enough on a Badger team locked and loaded.
“We were just a hair late,” Hoiberg said.
Burke scored a team-high 20 points with eight rebounds. Cross emerged from the bench for 17 points, and Mack added 14 with seven rebounds and six assists.
Wisconsin made six of its first 10 3s to take a 24-15 lead. But after a Nebraska timeout, the Badgers went cold for five minutes while NU battled back. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Mack in front of Wisconsin’s bench forced Wisconsin coach Greg Gard to take a timeout, the Huskers back up 25-24.
Mack scored 12 in the first half, including a floater at the buzzer for 39-38 score at halftime.
Davison hit two 3-pointers to open the second half, and it reignited the flame. He added a third 3-pointer for a 12-point Badger lead early, which soon grew to 59-42 before a Hoiberg walked onto the floor, sighed heavily and called a timeout.
Out of that break, Hoiberg drew up a play for Cross, who buried a top-of-the-key 3-pointer that sparked a quick 10-0 Husker run, most of those points coming in the paint. The Huskers scored 36 in there Tuesday night, 20 more than Wisconsin, the largest difference in that statistic against a conference foe this season.
Cross hit again from deep to cut Wisconsin's lead to 66-61 with five minutes remaining.
“When we cut that thing to five, I thought things were going in a really good direction for us,” Hoiberg said.
But the Badgers' chamber wasn’t empty yet. D’Mitrick Trice made a 3 in front of the Badger bench, then Brevin Pritzl did the same, then Trice did it again, then Pritzl did it again, and in the span of three minutes the Huskers were hit with a swirly of triples that sunk the chances of an upset.
Nebraska missed 10 of its last 11 shots, didn’t score a field goal for the final 3:28 of the game and is now four games into a losing streak. Rutgers awaits on Saturday, ranked in the AP poll for the first time in decades.
Even so, Hoiberg walked tall into the postgame press conference. You saw a blowout. He actually saw progress through the fog of 3s.
“What I'm looking for is for our guys to go out there and compete at a high level, and I thought we did that tonight,” Hoiberg said. “The resiliency our guys showed tonight, and to continue to go out there and battle as Wisconsin continued to make shots, is a step in the right direction for our team.”