EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Traevon Jackson is paying close attention to Nigel Hayes. Same for Sam Dekker, who thinks the freshman reserve is going to be a big-time player for No. 4 Wisconsin.
Jackson and Dekker are teaching. Hayes is listening, and it’s paying off.
Hayes had a career-high 19 points and the Badgers remained unbeaten with an easy 76-49 victory over Northwestern in their Big Ten opener Thursday night.
"What Nigel’s doing, one of the biggest reasons he’s able to do that, besides his frame, is that he’s intelligent," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Very smart. Picks up things very quickly and he’s so perceptive on the court."
Hayes went 8 for 12 from the field and had a season-high six rebounds while showing a nice combination of power and finesse. The prize recruit is averaging 15.3 points in his last three games.
"I’m feeling a little more comfortable out there," Hayes said.
The 6-foot-7 Hayes also credited Jackson for his improvement, praising the junior point guard for taking him under his wing.
"Nobody can guard him. We know that," Jackson said. "But he has to have that mentality that nobody can guard him. He’s the only person that can guard himself."
Dekker scored 15 points and Jackson had 10 for the Badgers (14-0, 1-0), who earned their seventh consecutive win against the Wildcats. They shot 55 percent (32 for 58) from the field and enjoyed a 38-27 rebounding edge.
Northwestern (7-7, 0-1) has dropped two straight after a three-game winning streak. Alex Olah had a career-high 23 points, but leading scorer Drew Crawford was held to 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
"Any time you lose a game in a blowout, you are angry," said Crawford, who was averaging 16.4 points coming into the day. "If we could play tomorrow, I would love to play tomorrow.
"After a loss like that, everything you want to do just tells you to get back onto the court."
Wisconsin improved to 14-0 for the first time since the Badgers won each of their 15 games in the 1911-12 and 1913-14 seasons. It was their 11th straight win in a Big Ten opener.
They can match the school record for fastest start with a victory against No. 22 Iowa in their first conference home game on Sunday.
"This is an amazing group to this point," Ryan said. "It’s 14 games."
Wisconsin grabbed control with a virtually flawless first half, scoring 36 of the final 45 points before intermission. The almost clinical performance began with a 16-2 run that included eight points from Hayes, who sparked the decisive sequence with two free throws and a jumper in the paint.
Hayes by himself had a 13-12 lead over the Wildcats with 1:30 to go.
"Just as a freshman, it’s scary what he can do in this league already," Dekker said. "We’re looking for big things from him."
Duje Dukan’s layup with 28 seconds left sent the Badgers to the locker room with a 40-14 lead. Wisconsin had a dominant advantage in virtually every category at the break, shooting 59 percent with only one turnover and building a 20-10 rebound difference.
Wisconsin’s start was so impressive that even the hard-charging Ryan seemed satisfied with the Badgers’ effort. He kept a close watch on the action from in front of the bench, but he seemed almost serene as his team picked apart the Wildcats.
It was more of the same in the second half, with Jackson finding Dekker for a fast-break dunk that made it 49-20 with 14:40 left.
Northwestern forward Nikola Cerina left with an injury after Dekker’s jam. The 6-9 redshirt senior appeared to be favoring his right leg as he hobbled off the court.
The Wildcats shot 34.5 percent (19 for 55) and their reserves managed just four points, compared to 32 for their counterparts on the Badgers.
"Certainly it was a tough night for us," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "Give a lot of credit to Wisconsin for that. I mean it was a great lesson for our guys."