Brad Davison stated the obvious on the eve of another Big Ten game for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.
"We've got to shoot better," the senior guard said earlier this week. "Yes, (defense) is a big deal, but you've got to put the ball in the hoop."
Most of the time, anyway. The No. 21 Badgers were able to survive another dismal offensive showing Wednesday, Feb. 10, because they were playing the worst team in the conference.
After some early issues on defense, UW shifted into lockdown mode and exited Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln with a 61-48 victory over Nebraska.
Freshman guard Jonathan Davis provided a much-needed boost in the second half and finished with a team-high 10 points for the Badgers (15-6, 9-5 Big Ten), who improved to 6-0 this season after losses.
UW won despite shooting 32.3% overall and 28.1% from 3-point range (9 of 32).
Against any other Big Ten opponent, this type of offensive performance almost certainly would have spelled disaster for the Badgers. Against the Cornhuskers (4-11, 0-8), who have lost 25 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents, it was good enough.
"Getting out of this thing with a win (despite) not playing to our full potential is definitely a good thing," UW senior guard Trevor Anderson said. "I don't think we get too concerned about shots going in. They're going to go in. We've proven that we're a good shooting team. Just kind of staying confident and letting the good ones fly."
On a night in which UW's starting lineup was a combined 12 of 49 from the field, it needed some help from the bench.
Davis and Anderson stepped up, especially in the second half.
"I thought both guys did a good job of breaking people down and making plays," UW coach Greg Gard said.
Davis provided a timely spark early in the second half, scoring six points over two possessions. He began the surge with a 3-pointer and followed with a three-point play that gave UW a 36-29 lead with 16 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the game.
It was the second time in a span of three games that he has led the Badgers in scoring.
"That's always the go-to for me," Davis said, "is to just try to come out, if the team's not playing as hard as they usually should, just giving them a little spark, a little energy off the bench."
The real star for UW was its defense, but it didn't look so hot on that end of the court early in the game.
Gard called a timeout 7:55 into the game after Nebraska had used a 10-0 run to build a 20-14 lead.
At that point, the Huskers were 8 of 12 overall from the field and 4 of 4 from 3-point range. Gard's biggest gripe was that the Badgers were giving up too many good looks in transition.
Message received. After allowing 20 points in the opening 7:51, the Badgers gave up only 28 over the final 32:09.
"Just shoring up those little things I think was definitely the key," Anderson said. "Because when we're in the half court and everybody's locked in, we're a pretty good defensive team."
Lat Mayen led the Huskers with 14 points, but 10 of those came during the early surge. After making its first four 3-pointers, Nebraska missed its next nine attempts from beyond the arc.
There was plenty of misfiring from UW as well. Senior guard D'Mitrik Trice went 3 of 14 from the field and senior forward Aleem Ford was 3 of 12. Sophomore forward Tyler Wahl was 1 of 8 and senior forward Nate Reuvers, back in the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 12, missed six of his eight attempts from the field.
"There are no easy games in this league," Gard said. "You take them one at a time and you take a deep breath and exhale when you get out of somewhere on the road, or at home because this year I think home and road is kind of a coin flip in terms of environment. Just do what you need to do to get through that game and then worry about the next one when that time comes."
As of now, the Badgers are scheduled to host No. 3 Michigan on Sunday. That starts a stretch in which five of UW's final six games will be against teams who are currently ranked: two against No. 15 Iowa and one each against the Wolverines, No. 6 Illinois and No. 24 Purdue.
"Now," Anderson said, "it's for real."
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