MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan isn’t ready to talk about this season’s team being special.
But he couldn’t help but be impressed at least a little with what the fourth-ranked Badgers did in an 86-61 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.
Ben Brust scored 20 points to lead four Wisconsin players in double figures, while the Badgers held Eastern Kentucky to 33 percent shooting in the first half.
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“I’m telling you, we’ve got this team on tape, on DVD, and they’re a much better shooting team than this. So you’ve got to give our guys credit for what they did defensively,” Ryan said.
The Badgers (12-0) are off to their best start to a season since 1915-16, when they started 12-0 and finished 20-1. They are in The Associated Press’ top 5 for only the second time in school history.
They now get two weeks off for finals and the holidays before one last tuneup heading into Big Ten play.
Brust said a preseason trip to play in Canada combined with the two extra weeks of practice this year helped the Badgers mold a roster that include contributors across all four classes.
“We’ve got a lot of pieces, and it’s coming together nicely. But we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Brust said.
The Badgers made a living on free throws and 3-pointers in a game that wasn’t close after the opening minutes.
Averaging 21 free throws a game coming in, they went 25 of 33 from the free throw line — led by freshman Nigel Hayes going 13 of 17 — as the undersized Colonels (7-4) committed 26 fouls. The Badgers finished 9 of 15 from beyond the 3-point line with Brust making five, two short of his school record.
Wisconsin used a 10-0 run in the first half featuring two 3-pointers by Brust to take control early and then continued to gradually pull away.
The Badgers first got the lead to 20 points with just over 2 minutes left in the first half and to 30 just past midway through the second half on a layup by Hayes.
Wisconsin shot a season-best 60 percent from the field.
“At the offensive end, it felt like they made every shot,” Colonels coach Jeff Neubauer said.
Hayes scored a career-high 17 points for the Badgers, while Sam Dekker added 16 and Frank Kaminsky shrugged off a right foot injury that hampered him this week to add 13.
Glenn Cosey scored 21 points to lead the Colonels, while Orlando Williams added 13.
The Colonels, who start four guards and a forward, started the game at a physical disadvantage that was exacerbated by their early foul trouble.
Starting forward Eric Stutz was whistled for his second foul less than 8 minutes into the game. But Neubauer brought him back in after a brief rest only to see him whistled for his third a few minutes later.
In all, Eastern Kentucky committed 16 fouls in the first half with three starters whistled for at least two, while reserves Timmy Knipp and Jef Johnson both committed three. Things got marginally better in the second half. But the Colonels were still whistled for 26 fouls overall, though no player ended up fouling out.
Neubauer praised Wisconsin for how it handled the pressure that is the Colonels’ signature.
The Colonels force 18 turnovers a game, including an average of 11 steals. While Wisconsin committed 11 turnovers, two more than their season average, it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the Badgers’ shooting performance, particularly from the free throw line.
“We’ve been very effective at creating bad decisions by other teams, and today we weren’t able to do it,” Neubauer said.
Brust said the break is coming at a good time for the Badgers, and they can take the next two weeks to take care of school and nagging injuries before facing Prairie View A&M on Dec. 28. They open Big Ten play at Northwestern Jan. 2.