EVANSTON, Ill. -- Freshman guard Nigel Hayes scored 19 points and unbeaten Wisconsin breezed to a 76-49 victory over Northwestern in a Big Ten opener for both teams on Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The No. 4 Badgers (14-0, 1-0) are off to their best start in the modern era (since 1946) and stand one win from matching their longest unbeaten opening run in a century. Wisconsin's 1913-14 team started 15-0.
Center Alex Olah scored a career-high 23 points and guard Drew Crawford added 10 as Northwestern (7-7, 0-1) dropped its second straight game.
Forward Sam Dekker had 15 points and guard Traevon Jackson added 10 for the Badgers, whose 27-point winning margin was their second largest of the season.
Wisconsin led 40-12 at halftime, the fifth time this season the Badgers had 40-plus points at the break. The Badgers extended their lead past 30 points as Hayes' jumper made it 51-20 with 14:14 to play.
That proved to be Wisconsin's high-water mark. Northwestern went on a 12-3 run that briefly cut the margin to 54-32, including back-to-back 3-pointers from guard JerShon Cobb and Crawford.
But dunks by Dekker and Hayes and a layup by guard Ben Brust pushed the Badgers' lead to 62-34 with 7:37 showing. The Wildcats never got closer than 25 points the rest of the way.
Northwestern's losing margin was its biggest of the season and its 49 points were the fewest since scoring 48 at North Carolina State on Dec. 4.
The Badgers shook off early misses and erased an early 5-4 deficit with a 8-0 run to take a 12-5 advantage. The lead reached 18-7 on Jackson's fast-break layup. Guard Bronson Koenig's two free throws pushed the margin to 33-12.
Northwestern managed just two field goals in nearly nine minutes and Wisconsin surged to a 36-12 lead.
Hayes had 13 first-half points as the Badgers claimed a 40-14 advantage at the break.
A large contingent of Badgers fans, ignoring the aftereffects of 12-plus inches of snow that hit Evanston since Wednesday, made Welsh-Ryan Arena feel more like home for the visitors.
The Badgers lead the overall series 112-61. The teams are 39-39 in games played in Evanston.
NOTES: The Wildcats travel to play 2012-13 national runner-up Michigan on Sunday and No. 22 Iowa next Thursday. ... Wisconsin plays its first conference home game on Sunday against Iowa. ... Northwestern G Dave Sobolewski was reunited with former high school teammate Frank Kaminsky, a junior F for Wisconsin. The pair played together at Benet Academy in suburban Chicago. ... The Wildcats were allowing just 32.9 percent shooting from the field and 21.1 percent from 3-point range combined by their past four opponents. ... The Badgers hold the top spot in ESPN's RPI ratings. They were 13-0 against teams with a combined 100-47 record entering Thursday. ... All five Wisconsin starters led the team in scoring in at least one game this season, and all began the night shooting 36 percent or better from beyond the 3-point arc. ... Badgers F Nigel Hayes was selected the Big Ten freshman of the week after collecting 10 points, three blocks and four rebounds on Saturday against Prairie View A&M.