MADISON - Tim Miles already had a win over Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers under his belt when he took over as head coach of the Nebraska basketball team this year. The win dates back to Jan. 21, 2006, when Miles coached the North Dakota State Bison to a 62-55 win over the Badgers in the Kohl Center.
The Badgers have since evened up the series after they beat Nebraska 47-41 earlier this season, but the win didn't come easily. The Cornhuskers led Wisconsin with a little more than 6 minutes left in the game, but the Badgers relied on their resilient defense and held Nebraska to just one basket in the game's final minutes. The Badgers did themselves no favors by shooting just 37.7 percent from the floor and hitting just 4-of-17 free throws.
Nebraska is set to make a stop in the Kohl Center Tuesday night for a chance at payback, after stunning the Iowa Hawkeyes by pulling off a 19-point comeback and beating them 64-60 on Saturday. But even though they expect another tough game with the Cornhuskers, the Badgers believe they've grown as a team since their last meeting.
"That was our second big ten game," sophomore point guard Traevon Jackson said Sunday. "We've come a long way. We've just got to come out and be ready to play."
The Badgers stumbled through their win over Nebraska and their first Big Ten game of the season against Penn State, which they won 60-51. But the Badgers shot just 38.1 percent from the field in those two games, including 20.5 percent from behind the arc. At the time it didn't look like the Badgers would be much of a factor in the Big Ten title chase for the first time in 11 years, but a month and a half later they're tied for third place in the conference and appear to be hitting their stride.
The Badgers are riding a two-game winning streak thanks to blowout wins over both Ohio State and Northwestern. The Badgers shot 49.5 percent from the floor in those two games, which they won by a combined 50 points. That includes a 57.9 percent mark from inside the 3-point line, beating their season mark by almost 10 percent.
But while it would be easy to look ahead and try to figure out how they can get the best seed possible for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, the Cornhuskers are more dangerous than their 13-14 record would suggest. In addition to their win over Iowa and close loss to the Badgers, Nebraska has gone toe-to-toe with No. 8 Michigan State and No. 11 Ohio State.
One of Nebraska's biggest strengths is defending the 3-pointer. They're second in the Big Ten and allow their opponents to make just 24.3 percent of their shots from downtown, which could give the Badgers trouble again. The Cornhuskers held the Badgers to just 23.5 percent shooting on 3-pointers in their first game, which is worrisome for a team that relies so much on making shots on the perimeter.
But even if the Badgers can make their 3-pointers this time around, Wisconsin assistant coach Greg Gard believes Miles and the Cornhuskers will find some way to give them a game, just like he did when the Bison upset the Badgers over seven years ago.
"Tim's done a nice job of just finding ways to hang around and muddy things up," Gard said Sunday. "And he's done that all year when they've been able to make a few shots. It was not surprising to me at all, in terms of them being able to just do enough to keep hanging around and make a few shots, make a run. They've been [competitive] in a lot of games."
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