No matter what the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team did Sunday afternoon, it was going to be hard to top what its football brethren did the previous night in terms of shock value.
But that didn’t stop Bo Ryan’s team from trying.
Junior guard Ben Brust scored a season-high 22 points, senior forward Jared Berggren added 18 and the Badgers rolled to an 81-56 non-conference victory over previously unbeaten California at the Kohl Center.
Senior forward Ryan Evans added 13 points and freshman forward Sam Dekker added 10 as UW (5-3) bounced back from a disappointing loss to Virginia on Wednesday with a thoroughly dominating performance against the Golden Bears (6-1), an NCAA tournament team a year ago.
“I know Bo Ryan’s teams well enough to know what you’re going to get when you come here,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “And when Virginia came in here and beat them, I knew we were going to get them at their best in terms of their effort and their physicality.”
The Bears got that, and a lot more from the Badgers.
Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz, who was blunt in his assessment that UW got outworked in the game against Virginia, had eight points, eight rebounds and five steals against the Bears.
Leading up to Sunday’s game, Bruesewitz said the Badgers had to “punch Cal in the mouth.” UW’s right cross was a 14-0 run early in the game, its uppercut was a 12-0 run later in the first half and the knockout blow was an 11-0 run early in the second half after the Bears had pulled to within 11.
UW had more bodies hitting the ground than it did against Virginia and drew four offensive fouls. Bruesewitz, Brust and Dekker, who scored all of his points in the first half, set the tone early in the game with their energy and hustle.
“We took care of the small stuff,” Bruesewitz said.
But that’s not all the Badgers did better.
UW averaged 1.21 points per possession because it did a much better job of finishing its scoring opportunities around the basket. The Badgers shot 51.7 percent overall and 62.1 percent from inside the 3-point arc after finishing at 38.2 percent and 39.4 percent in those categories against Virginia.
“I think they were a lot of the same looks,” said Brust, who was 3 of 6 from 3-point range and 6 of 7 from inside the arc. “It’s just a matter of stepping up to the plate and being a man and finishing a play.”
Berggren said he thought UW’s shot selection was better against Cal than it was against Virginia.
“Sometimes, we settled for fadeaways or off-balance shots when, if you go in stronger, have better balance and get your eyes up on the rim, you have a better chance of finishing them,” Berggren said. “We did a better job of that tonight.”
UW was also much better on defense against Cal, which came in with two players – junior guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs – averaging at least 20 points per game.
Crabbe scored a game-high 25 points on 8-for-15 shooting for Cal, but Cobbs had a rough game against the Badgers. He finished with 11 points – nine below his season average – on 3-for-10 shooting and finished with no assists and seven turnovers.
Cal averaged just 0.84 points per possession in large part to the fact it had 23 turnovers in 67 possessions. Montgomery chalked up some of those miscues to what he called “fumble-itis,” but the Badgers also did a good job of making life uncomfortable for the Bears one the ball went inside the paint.
“I think defensively we did a good job of pinching and squeezing the floor, like Coach Ryan always says, making gaps look smaller,” Bruesewitz said. “And when Cobbs was getting in the lane — he tried to drop it off a few times to the bigs — our guards did a good job of coming own and helping us out and just getting their hands on the ball.
“We don’t really track tips, but if we were to look at this game, how many tips we had, how many of those tips resulted in steals, it’d be a pretty high percentage.”