It looked like the unpredictability of the Big Ten was going to strike again Tuesday night in Madison.
Indiana held a 29-19 lead on Wisconsin, the highest-ranked Big Ten team, at the Kohl Center. This after Minnesota had handed Iowa an upset loss earlier in the night. But the Badgers, who were ice-cold from the field during their season-low 19-point first half, put at least a brief stop to the craziness that has reigned all season, coming out the other end with a 69-58 win, their sixth straight.
Few teams in the conference are playing better than Wisconsin at the moment, and though that didn’t show through the first 20 minutes Tuesday, it did in the second half. The Badgers started making shots, scoring 50 points over the game’s final 20 minutes, and buckled down on defense, holding the visiting Hoosiers under 20 points for the vast majority of the half.
In what could have been another status-quo-altering upset, the Badgers responded and reaffirmed that they’re one of the best teams in not just their conference but the country as a whole.
“Shots went in. When the ball goes through the hoop, it makes a lot of things easier,” Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said after the game. “People think it’s some crazy magic that happened, but no. We just made shots, we made some plays and didn’t really change anything system-wise. We just ran our plays, and it worked.”
It hadn’t worked in the first half, when the Badgers shot just 25.9 percent from the field. But then the shots started falling, and things turned around in a hurry. A 10-point halftime deficit turned into a one-point Wisconsin advantage in just more than five minutes.
The Badgers starters showed up. All five of them finished in double figures, though that was hardly the case through the first 20 minutes: Traevon Jackson scored five, Josh Gasser and Frank Kaminsky each had four, and Dekker had two. Ben Brust was scoreless in the first half, but in the second half, Brust went off, scoring all 12 of his points.
“I knew it was only a matter of time,” Brust said. “I knew it was going to start, so I was like, ‘Can it just start now?’ Looking at 3-for-10, I know I can do better than that. It’s definitely good to get a couple to go down, and I think it kind of ignited this team. It just kind of trickled down to everyone else. Sam hit a couple, and then Josh hit one on the wing. Then Trae hit one. Frank was doing good things inside, so it just kind of got us going, opened things up”
It’s going to be important for Wisconsin to avoid these kinds of bumps in the road down the stretch of the regular season and in the Big Ten Tournament because the Badgers could be headed for a very high seed in the NCAA tournament. They have one of the finest resumes in the country, with wins over five teams currently leading their conferences (Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia, Michigan and Green Bay).
Avoid a loss — like the one that seemed to be brewing against Indiana — and the Badgers could be looking at a very favorable seed come tournament time.