Wisconsin suffered a stunning defeat in its lone true road game this season, but the next one comes after an impressive win in its Big Ten opener.
Easy victories have been the norm when it’s faced Penn State in recent years.
The No. 23 Badgers have won five straight road games against the Nittany Lions by double digits, and they’ll look to extend their overall win streak in the series to 11 on Sunday afternoon.
Only three schools have allowed fewer points per game than Wisconsin’s 59.6 since coach Bo Ryan took over in 2001-02, and his team closed the decade in dominant defensive fashion.
The Badgers (11-2, 1-0) beat Illinois-Chicago 79-43 last Sunday in their final non-conference game and carried that momentum over to their league opener Thursday against Ohio State. Wisconsin held the 15th-ranked Buckeyes to 32.6 percent shooting and Trevon Hughes had 16 points in a 65-43 win.
“We’ll take this and do some things defensively and say ‘atta boys’ as the saying goes, but there are still some things that we have to get better at,” Ryan said. “Our positioning was pretty good today.”
Wisconsin is among the nation’s top 15 defensively, giving up 57.2 points per game, as it seeks a fourth straight season allowing fewer than 60.0.
Ryan said he was “unsettled” by leading scorer Jon Leuer picking up two quick fouls and banished him to the bench for much of the first half. Leuer, though, came back to score 11 points during Wisconsin’s 16-5 run in the first eight minutes of the second half.
“We know what the Big Ten has in store for us,” said Leuer, averaging 16.5 points. “It’s a long, grueling league season, but it’s always nice to win the first one and get off to a good start. We have to put that behind us and look to the next one, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Leuer’s most productive performance came in Wisconsin’s lone road game, with 26 points and 10 rebounds at Green Bay on Dec. 9. The defense let down the Badgers, however, allowing the Phoenix to shoot 48.3 percent in an 88-84 overtime loss.
A game against Penn State (8-5, 0-1) has nearly always resulted in an impressive defensive display from the Badgers over the past six years. Wisconsin has held the Nittany Lions to an average of 50.8 points in winning 10 straight in the series, and it’s won five in a row on the road by an average of 18.8 points.
Not letting Talor Battle get loose has been a big part of that success. The Big Ten’s second-leading scorer (19.1 ppg), Battle has averaged 8.3 points on 26.5 percent shooting in four games against the Badgers.
He was held to 10 points as Wisconsin won 54-44 at Penn State on Feb. 8.
Penn State has six players who average between 7.0 and 8.1 points, and the only one besides Battle with a 20-point game is junior forward David Jackson.
Battle had 23 points Tuesday in the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten opener, a 75-70 loss at Minnesota.
“This is the first time we’ve had guys play in this kind of atmosphere,” coach Ed DeChellis said. “We had some new guys in spots, and they were shaky, but I thought that as the game went on they got more comfortable.”
While Penn State is 4-1 in its last five home games against ranked opponents, Wisconsin has won its past five conference road openers.