MADISON - Shooting inside the Kohl Center has never really been an issue for Wisconsin teams. Even if the game isn't going exactly as planned it seems more times than not a player will step up and knock an attempt down that will do nothing but destroy any level of will opposing teams have.
Sunday evening, during an emotional senior day that saw six Badger players participate in their final game at home, it was a hot-shooting Northwestern team that attempted to return the favor.
Hitting nearly 50 percent of its shots from the field and even better than that from distance, the Wildcats caused some unrest inside the sold out arena as they rallied from 16 down early in the second half before eventually cutting UW's lead to three with just better than seven minutes to play.
Then the seniors and a pretty special junior point guard stepped up and made plays for the Badgers. The result? A comforting albeit somewhat uncomfortable 78-63 victory and a perfect 16-0 home portion of the schedule.
"They were definitely on fire especially in the first half," UW senior Jon Leuer, who scored a game-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting said. "Juice Thompson was hot all game so we just had to try to contain him and take away his space. But we've done that to teams. When a team gets hot like that you just try to keep grinding and keep getting offensive rebounds.
"You try to make them work on defense to take away some of their legs."
Maybe it was heavy legs that eventually caused Northwestern to run out of gas. Or maybe it was the fact that the Badgers stormed out to such an early lead (UW reeled off nine straight points to start the game) or shot nearly 60 percent from the field during the contest.
Anyway you cut it, Wisconsin's top offensive cogs -Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Jordan Taylor - proved too much for a Wildcat team that saw four players finish with double-digit scoring and four other players get minutes without a single combined point.
Thompson paced the Wildcats with 19 points, spearheaded by an efficient 5-for-6 effort from downtown, and John Shurna and Drew Crawford chipped in 14 and 12 respectively.
Davide Curletti scored 18 points off the bench and helped Northwestern claw its way back into the game with an 8-1 run midway through the second frame that cut the Badger lead to three.
"When you prepare for them you talk about those kind of runs," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "I've seen them do that to other teams and the other team gets down and a little disjointed. They're going to do that at times. They're going to go through those streaks and you've just got to be ready to…get them the next time and stop them the next time.
"They'll hit a streak where they're going to miss some."
That time finally came once the four-minute mark rolled around on the game clock. After Northwestern utilized the 3-point shot to its advantage for most of the second half, the law of averages eventually caught up with it and suddenly the Wildcats couldn't hit a shot and struggled to score just four points over the final four minutes of the contest.
The Badgers, who remained poised throughout the run, could hit shots. And that eventually widened the margin to a point too large for Northwestern to overcome.
"They had looks," Ryan said. "I would think that with the way these guys shoot they must just put mannequins right in front of them and just shoot right over the top of them in their shooting practices. Even if we had guys up on them, especially in the first half, they just rocked and fired. They just shot over the top because they do it well.
"I think they were bound for one streak and it happened to be the last four minutes. Not that you count on it, but I just think that was more of it than anything else."
Wisconsin, who had its top three offensive contributors reach the double-digit plateau, also had heady contributions from freshman Josh Gasser and seniors Tim Jarmusz and Wquinton Smith.
Combined, those three role players combined to shoot 5-of-7 from the field for 19 points.
"We are very comfortable at the Kohl Center," Leuer, whose team shot 65 percent from the field in the opening frame, said. "We're just in our normal routine shooting at the baskets and using the balls we always shoot with. We just have so much repetition there. I think that gives us a little more confidence with our shots.
"We just know that that crowd behind us we don't plan on losing. Ever."
Especially on what turned out to be one of the more impactful senior nights in recent memory. All six seniors on the roster saw time. Some, such as J.P. Gavinski, Wquinton Smith and Brett Valentyn didn't get as much run as the other three, but for the most part they found ways to contribute and close out the home portion of the schedule unblemished for just the third time in the past 80 years.
"I think we did a good job of putting all the pre-game emotion stuff behind us and taking care of business," Nankivil, who scored 15 points and collected four rebounds, said. "Then we let the ceremony take place afterwards. It's a pretty incredible feeling."
Taylor finished with 16 points and seven assists to just two turnovers. Nankivil dropped 15 points in the win on 6-of-9 shooting and Gasser tacked on 10 of his own. Wisconsin worked the ball in the paint to outscore Northwestern 22-16 and utilized a 27-19 rebounding edge to outscore the Cats 13-6 on second chance opportunities.
The Badgers have off until they travel to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers Thursday night.
-UW went undefeated at home in both 2003-04 (15-0) and 2006-07 (19-0). Prior to those two seasons (and this one), Wisconsin hadn't gone undefeated since the 1929-30 season.
-Wisconsin's current 19-game win streak ties for sixth-nationally and also marks the second-longest active streak in the Big Ten.
-With the win, Wisconsin has won 12 Big Ten games for just the eighth time in school history. It also marks the fourth time in the past five years UW has reached that number of conference wins.
-The 43 points Wisconsin scored in the first half tied for its second-highest offensive output during the first half in Big Ten play this season. UW scored 45 at Northwestern before scoring 43 at home against Michigan State.
-UW's 65.4 percent shooting clip in the first half was the team's best-shooting first half of the season and the team's best-shooting half overall in Big Ten play.
-With 26 points, Leuer logged his 21st career game with 20 points or more. In doing so, he has now reached double figures in 35 straight games.
-Taylor, who scored 16 points, has hit double-digit scoring in 24 straight games.
-Nankivil continues to be one of the hottest shooting Badgers on the squad. With his 15 points against Northwestern, the senior is averaging 16.7 points per game over UW's last three.
Though it was evident Taylor did something to aggravate his ankle late in the second half of Sunday's win, the junior point guard made it clear there was nothing to worry about.
"I tweaked it a little bit," Taylor said. "But it's fine right now."
-Bo Ryan on his team's undefeated season at home:
"We never mention it. It was never in a conversation that we had. All I said after the game was that we closed out the home portion of the schedule. Now we've still got games to play. I've never talked about it and never had. I played for a coach that never talked about streaks or the fact that we one 25 in a row. It was never mentioned when we were at 18, 'Hey, we're 18-0.' That doesn't have to come from the coach. Our guys are very well educated. They can read and they listen to their classmates. They know what's going on, but we've never talked about a streak."
-Jon Leuer on winning at home:
"One of the goals that we had was to always protect our home court and we were able to do that. So check that one off the list."