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CANCUN, Mexico -- Wisconsin's Sam Dekker took the question in an all-encompassing vein after the Badgers held off West Virginia, 70-63, Wednesday night to capture the Cancun Challenge in Rivera Maya, Mexico.
What was the difference tonight, Sam?
"Us staying solid," he said. "We started playing our game and that got us the early lead. We went up 30-13 and they battled back. They (the Mountaineers) are a good shooting team.
"We just had to weather the storm and that's what we've been doing so far this season (during a 8-0 start) and if we continue to do that it will be the difference in a lot of ball games."
But what was the difference tonight, Sam - in Sam - what was the difference in your game?
"Me playing confident," he said. "I came out early kind of looking for my shot. On my first touch I hit that turnaround jumper and that felt good, so I kept attacking."
West Virginia started a frontline of 6-9 Devin Williams, 6-9 Nathan Adrian and 6-10 Kevin Noreen. The Mountaineers opened in a man-to-man defense and Williams, a freshman, drew Dekker.
"They put a big guy on me and I just wanted to keep taking him in the hole," Dekker said, "and that kind of propelled me to stay active. I waited for my moments and when I saw openings, I attacked."
Dekker, at times, was dominant. In the first half, he had 10 points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes. That matched his career high in rebounds. Dekker had eight against Marquette last season.
For more context, he had nine rebounds in the previous three games combined. His previous high this season had been seven, which he collected twice - against St. John's and Green Bay.
"They're always on me about how I've got to rebound more," Dekker acknowledged. "I have to be more active and more aggressive and use my length to get those boards and I was able to do that."
Dekker finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, his first career double-double. It was more in line with the lofty expectations for Dekker who had stellar high school and AAU resumes.
On what made the difference in Dekker's game against West Virginia, UW point guard Traevon Jackson said, "He had the instinct on when to take over the game."
In this case, it was from the on-set - and then again - over the last five minutes.
"He didn't care about messing up, he didn't care about what he did wrong," said Jackson, adding that everything was predicated on focusing "on the next play" or the next possession.
"That's what we need Sam to do for us to be the team that we want to be. He's such a competitor and he's hard on himself a lot."
Did Dekker feel like he had been putting too much pressure on himself, maybe pressing?
"Pressing? No, I don't think so," Dekker said. "I just think teams were playing some good 'D' on me and I wasn't hitting the open shot.
"But you can't get down on yourself. You have to come out and play every possession. Our coaches preach that and I know they have confidence in me."
The confidence was rewarded after West Virginia came roaring back in the second half on the strength of a quicker three-guard line-up and a zone defense that caused problems for the Badgers.
Dekker responded with some 3-point daggers. When the Mountaineers closed within five points, 56-51, he hit a triple with 4:51 left. He got another at 2:54 and yet another at 1:23.
"I was working the baseline and the high post area against their zone," Dekker said, "but Trae (Jackson) was doing a great job of driving and kicking and I was able to hit those '3s."
Jackson ended up with seven assists against West Virginia.
"When we moved the ball," Jackson said, "we got wide open shots."
His shot wasn't falling, though. Jackson was 1-of-9 from the field.
"At the end of the day, I've got to hit shots," he said. "True shooters shoot the same way every time, no matter where they're at. I got away from that when I missed a couple.
"Luckily my teammates were hitting and I was able to find them."
Jackson, like Dekker, has a tendency to be too hard on himself. Not only did Jackson have seven assists and just one turnover in 35 minutes, he had a career-high 10 rebounds.
"Look at his stat line," Dekker said. "That's a true point guard right there. He didn't shoot the ball very well, but he did things when we needed him and he was a difference-maker on the court."
Jackson couldn't remember the last time that he reached double-digits in rebounds. But he rationalized his board work by saying, "I can't be a liability on the floor, I've got to do something."
Jackson and Dekker were named to the All-Tournament team in Cancun after the Badgers knocked off St. Louis and West Virginia. Dekker was selected as the Most Valuable player.
"It's cool," said Dekker. "But I've said it before: when your team does well, individual accolades will come. We worked together as a team and I was blessed to be this situation and get this award."
From game to game, Dekker and Jackson agreed, it seems like someone different is doing something positive to help this team win. It speaks to the unselfishness of the players, young and old.
"We jell, we get along off the court really well, we're all best friends," observed junior guard Josh Gasser who missed all of last season after undergoing ACL surgery.
"When we're on the court, it's just fun for. We're playing together and when you've got a group of unselfish guys who really want to win - and have common goals - good things can happen."
What is their team strength?
"Our versatility at both ends of the court," said Gasser. "We've got guys who can play inside and out on offense and defense. That poses matchup problems for other teams.
"We can put together a lot of different combinations on the court. It's definitely a positive. And that's where the unselfishness comes in."
To the extent, Gasser suggested, that no one cares who scores.
"One night Frank (Kaminsky) will go off; another night it will be Sam or someone else," he said. "We have a different guy every night who can really carry the load.
"It all starts with Traevon (as the point guard) and the leadership and energy that a lot of us bring to the game. If you try to stop one guy, others will step up and pick him up."
The winning formula will be put to the test with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Virginia on Wednesday followed by Saturday's always intense intra-state rivalry with Marquette at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers are 8-0 for the first time in 20 years. Dekker won't turn 20 until May. Maybe it's the youth in the locker room. But nobody is satisfied.
"We can always get better," Jackson said.
Tuesday evening, Frank Kaminsky entered the Kohl Center boasting a career average of 3.2 points per game and a total of 26 points scored on the season. The UW junior exited the Kohl Center that night with a school record and whole lot of fame.
Thanks to his 43-point outburst in a 103-85 win over North Dakota, Kaminsky set the UW single-game record, a mark that had stood since 1965. He also set off a firestorm of chatter, headlining everything from ESPN's SportsCenter to trending worldwide on Twitter.
A few of Tuesday's tweets:
With each of his six 3-pointers and 16 total baskets, Kaminsky's celebrity status rose, as did his place in history. Let's examine that:
- Kaminsky's 43 points are the most scored by a Division I player this season.
- Kaminsky's 43 points equals the mark set by Illinois' Brandon Paul against Ohio State on 1/20/12 as the most by a Big Ten player since 1996-97. In fact, the Big Ten has produced only four 40-point games in the last 18 seasons.
- Over the last 15 years, Kaminsky and Central Michigan's Chris Kaman are the only 7-footers to score 40 points in a game.
- Kaminsky is one of just four Division I players since 1996-97 to score 43 points and shoot at least 84.0 percent from the field in a game.
- Kaminsky is one of four players to score at least 43 points against a Division 1 opponent in 28 minutes or less since 1996-97. The last player to do it was Davidson's Stephen Curry (43 points in 27 minutes vs. Appalachian State, 2009).
OK, how many of you had Wisconsin holding Indiana to 3 points last Saturday? I would guess very few, if any, expected such a shutdown performance. After all, going into the weekend, the Hoosiers had scored at least 28 points in 10 straight games.
So much for that streak.
Through ten games this season, Wisconsin has held half of its opponents without a touchdown. No matter the era, that is an impressive stat. In this day of spread-you-out, fast football, keeping five opponents out of the end zone is borderline mind-boggling.
As the Badgers get ready to face Minnesota in the annual Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, they know another big-boy effort is needed in all phases.
On multiple occasions, I have written and talked about the rivalry, and how much fun it is to watch every year. This time around is even better. Why? Because the Gophers are good, and the stakes are high for both programs.
While the Badgers continue a slow climb up the BCS standings (UW is 19th this week), Minnesota checks in at No. 25. Both teams are 8-2, and both teams are rolling. The Gophers have won four straight, while the Badgers have won five in a row.
Rivalry aside, how can you not appreciate what the Gophers are accomplishing as head coach Jerry Kill works to get his health back in order? There can be very little argument that to this point in the season, Minnesota has been the league's most pleasant surprise.
While not such a surprise, the Badgers deserve a ton of credit themselves. They have managed to overcome two tough losses in September. Since then, they have done nothing but win in convincing fashion. The Badgers are playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten, and to date, continue to state a case -- on the field, and not through the media -- why they should be ranked higher than 19th.
By the way, if you are going to TCF Bank Stadium, bundle up. The forecast for this Saturday calls for a game-time temperature of about 20 degrees, which would be in the top five -- or perhaps bottom five -- coldest temps at kickoff in UW football history.
* * * *
Part of what makes watching sports so enjoyable is we never know for sure what is going to happen. In the last week, Badgers football and basketball fans have witnessed history.
First, it was James White's 93-yard touchdown run against Indiana. It is the longest run from scrimmage in program history.
Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, Frank Kaminsky's 43 point effort against North Dakota set a UW single game record. Talk about efficiency -- Kaminsky needed just 19 shots. He made 16, including for 6-for-6 from 3-point range.
North Dakota's Troy Huff wasn't too bad, either. The former Brookfield Central standout dropped in 37 points. Both Huff and Kaminsky did their damage in just 28 minutes of playing time.
It was an entertaining night in what has been a fun start for Bo Ryan's team. An early-season storyline of different players stepping up is continuing. Kaminsky's historic night followed his critical contributions in the three-point victory against the Phoenix, when he scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots.
In the last two games, Bronson Koenig 's minutes have picked up, and he is playing well. At Green Bay, Koenig scored seven points and, on Tuesday, added five more.
Yes, this group wants to be better defensively, but the Badgers have faced good teams and some special individual players. So far, so good as Wisconsin's busy stretch of non-conference games continues.
MADISON, Wis. -- When the Badgers open the season Friday night, they will do so in atypical fashion, traveling to Sioux Falls, S.D. for a neutral-site contest with St. John's.
Wisconsin has not opened the season away from the Kohl Center since 2005 when they played in the Paradise Jam tournament in St. Thomas.
Further, UW hasn't opened against a team from one of the "Power 6" conferences since traveling to Tennessee to begin the 2000-01 season.
So how did we get here?
Two reasons: this game gives the Badgers a quality non-conference opponent on their schedule and UW gets to help out an old friend.
"This is a great RPI team," Ryan said of a St. John's team who played in the NIT last season. "They've got everybody back; they're very athletic. It's a team that's going to make some noise."
UW's opener will also mark a reunion of sorts.
Sanford Health CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, father of former Badger Joe Krabbenhoft, was looking for two major programs to help with the grand opening of the brand-new Sanford Pentagon, which is the cornerstone of a $19-million, 162-acre sports complex.
Ryan's connection with the Krabbenhoft family made the Badgers an ideal fit to participate in the first-ever regular-season game played on the building's Heritage Court, a 3,200-seat retro-styled fieldhouse.
"There are some really neat features at the Pentagon and I'm excited to see it," Ryan added. "Plus we get to help Kelby showcase their new arena. Everybody wins."
Well, not everybody gets to win. Either Wisconsin or St. John's will return home with a loss on their ledger, but the early-season experience and resume-building contest can only help in the long run.
"I'm sure that the opponents that we're playing non-conference will give us the test that we need," Ryan concluded "And how we respond to them? We'll see."
Let me start by offering a round of applause to UW and all the fans who were at the Kohl Center for Saturday's Red/White Scrimmage. That was one of the best turnouts I can remember for the men's basketball team's intrasquad game, and as scrimmages go, it was a high-quality show.
From the creative player introductions, where each of the Badgers had the chance to show off a move or two with a member of the UW Dance Team, to Vitto Brown's excellent performance of the national anthem, to the down-to-the-wire game itself, it was a fun way for Wisconsin hoops fans to spend a couple of hours.
As I wrote last week, the scrimmage included one of my favorite words -- free. It was a good weekend for that word. Last Friday, UW Athletics hosted its annual Kids Day at the Kohl Center, where young boys and girls had the chance to meet a number of student-athletes. As usual, the players seemed to enjoy the day as much as the youngsters.
The cost of attending sporting events is well documented, but we also should note that UW offers a number of low-cost or no-cost events. Hopefully you were able to take advantage of at least one of those outings last week. If not, hopefully you will in the future. After all, the price is right, and those who do attend have a great time.
* * * *
For this observer, November is when the Badgers' sports world kicks into high gear. Basketball season is here. After Wednesday night's exhibition game with UW-Platteville, Bo Ryan's Badgers set their sights on the regular season opener one week from Friday against St. John's.
The Badgers and the Red Storm will help break in the new Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.. It is a 3,200-seat facility with a parquet floor that might remind you of the old Boston Garden. A couple of weeks ago, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves played an exhibition game there.
This game counts, and it will be fun to see coach Steve Lavin again. During his days as an ESPN analyst, Lavin was the keynote speaker on two occasions for Bo's Coaches vs. Cancer gala in Madison. This season will be Lav's fourth as St. John's head coach.
* * * *
Now to football, where after two bye weeks in October, the stretch drive begins. In an odd schedule, the Badgers will play nearly half of their slate in November, starting this Saturday in Iowa City.
It is good to see Wisconsin crack the BCS rankings at No. 24. I am biased, but I believe they deserve a higher ranking. At least they broke into the Top 25, so I will spare you the complaining -- for now.
The Badgers have five games remaining, and while none features an opponent currently in the BCS rankings, this month will be anything but easy.
Iowa is coming off an emotionally-charged overtime victory against Northwestern and most expect a very physical battle this weekend. The Hawkeyes-Wildcats game had an old-school feel to it, and I would think it will be more of the same when the Badgers roll into town.
BYU is playing well, and it has a bye this week before visiting Camp Randall a week from Saturday. The Cougars have a very good dual-threat quarterback in Taysom Hill, who leads BYU in rushing and has accounted for 20 touchdowns so far this season.
On and on it goes. Minnesota is looking better and better. Indiana can score in bunches, and while Penn State had a long Saturday night in Columbus, the Nittany Lions can be a dangerous team. Just ask Michigan.
The hectic month of November is about to begin. Yes, it can be crazy, and it also has a chance to be special.
I am looking forward to it. I am guessing you are as well.
Ready or not -- and I would guess most of you are more than ready -- another season of Wisconsin basketball is about to begin.
This Saturday, while the football team enjoys its second bye of the month, the men's basketball team will have its annual Red/White Scrimmage. Tip time at the Kohl Center is 5 p.m., and admission is one of my favorite words -- free. (Media motto: "If it's free, it's for me. I'll take three.")
Once again, it figures to be an interesting season for Bo Ryan's group. While an August trip to Canada allowed the team to get a jump start on the season, Saturday's run will mark the first opportunity for most fans to get an up-close look at the Badgers, including the six new faces in the program.
There are minutes to be had in the front court, and everyone is eager to see the next step in Frank Kaminsky's growth, as well as the development of rookies Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown.
How much this first-year class will contribute right away remains to be seen, but based on some very early observations, both mine and others, this will be enjoyable bunch to watch and get to know.
Let me put it another way -- Ryan and his staff did not go out and recruit a class of wallflowers. At last week's Steak Fry, Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Patrick Herb was quizzing seniors Ben Brust and Zach Bohannon on the newbies. When they told the crowd that Brown can carry a tune, the entire team urged him to give a little sample. Young Vitto obliged, and yes, he can sing.
Actually, the man stole the show.
Herb accurately pointed out that "women's hearts are melting."
Yeah, I know that has nothing to do with understanding what Ryan wants done on the floor, but it was a fun moment at a preseason function.
It is hard to believe that this is the 13th year for Bo Ryan as the Badgers' head coach. Time flies when your team is winning most of its games, right? For the good times to continue, it is a good guess that Ryan and his staff will be counting on veterans such as Ben Brust, Traevon Jackson and the return of Josh Gasser to help lead the way.
There is also no doubt that defenses will be dialed in to sophomore Sam Dekker. As impressive as he was last year, keep in mind he averaged just a bit more than 22 minutes of playing time per game. I would imagine there is a decent chance his workload will increase this season.
Next Wednesday, the Badgers host UW-Platteville and then the regular season begins. In what is an aggressive non-conference schedule, the Badgers will jump right into the deep end of the pool. They open with St. John's in Sioux Falls, S.D. Four days later, Wisconsin has its home opener with Florida.
So much for easing into the season.
Most believe the Big Ten will again be a very strong conference. Perhaps the best in the nation. The good news is the Badgers have been good enough for long enough that they have earned nationwide respect.
When in doubt, many just assume they will be very good -- again.
Late Saturday afternoon is your chance to get a sneak peek at what this year's Badgers have to offer.
Jon Leuer is playing on his fourth team in three NBA seasons, but if this year's preseason is any indication, he might have finally found a home with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Leuer - who was drafted by the Bucks in 2011, traded to Cleveland, then Houston and ultimately Memphis in Jan. of 2013 - played sparingly last season for the Grizzlies. After a vote of confidence re-signing in the summer, Leuer has made an impact in Memphis' first two preseason games.
Following a nine-point, five-rebound, four-assist effort against the Bulls, Leuer scored a team-high 17 points with 10 rebounds and five assists against the Mavericks Wednesday night. What might be an even better sign is that he played a team-high 34 minutes off the Memphis bench.
The Grizzles were playing without a few of their regulars, but Leuer seized the opportunity. The only negative on the 2011 UW alum's performance?
"He needs to be more selfish," Memphis head coach Dave Joerger said after the game. "I thought he passed up a bunch of shots tonight."
Gives him something to work on I guess.
- Badgers in the NBA PageMADISON, Wis.
-- It seems like just a few days ago that LeBron James and the Heat were cutting down the nets after dispatching the Spurs in the NBA Finals. But here we are in October and NBA training camps have ramped up again, including five former Badgers spread around the league.Marcus Landry
(L.A. Lakers) is averaging 8.0 points per game in 13.5 minutes, including a 13 points off the bench against Denver Sunday night. Landry is 4-for-11 from 3-point range in the early going.Greg Stiemsma
(Pelicans) signed a free agent contract with New Orleans in the offseason and got the starting nod in the team's 116-115 win in the preseason opened over Houston. Stiemsma played 10 minutes and did not score.Kammron Taylor
(Celtics), Devin Harris
(Mavericks) and Jon Leuer
(Grizzlies) all begin their preseason schedules Monday night.
Wednesday morning began with breakfast at the hotel restaurant, a diverse buffet with hot and cold breakfast staples as well as more interesting early morning fare like cured meats and brown beans.
Then it was off on a walking tour of downtown Ottawa. The team marched a few blocks to Parliament Hill to watch the 10 a.m. Changing of the Guard ceremony. It's a pretty neat mix of pageantry, marching band and bagpipe music and military drills performed by the Ceremonial Guard.
After the ceremony, head coach Bo Ryan gathered the team for what seemed like an important message.
"Guys, I don't see what the big deal is about changing of the guards. Bronson (Koenig) and George (Marshall), go in and take out Ben (Brust) and Josh (Gasser). That's the changing of the guards," Ryan joked.
Pretty hard for this group to blend in - 20-some people walking around in matching white Wisconsin Basketball shirts, with many of the group towering over the standard tourists. Let's just say the players get approached a lot for photos and questions.
Then we met our tour guide, Alex, and got the historical background on Ottawa and some its major landmarks, visiting Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, a view of Quebec, Rideau Canal, Sparks Street, Chateau Laurier, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and ByWard Market. Photo Gallery of the Badgers in Ottawa
Temperatures were around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), so it was a bit toasty for this area. In fact there is a heat advisory in effect here - feels pretty good if you ask this group.
Then it was back to the hotel for a little rest before tonight's game. Hard to believe we're in pregame routine mode in August, but we are. Pregame meal at 3 p.m., bus leaves at 5:30 p.m., game time at 7 p.m.Wisconsin vs. Carleton
Raven's Nest Gym in the Alumni Hall
7 p.m. - RogersTV
Greetings from Ottawa, Ontario!
Salutations du Canada!
Tuesday was a travel day for the Badgers as they began their eight-day, five-game exhibition tour of Canada. Following a bus ride to Chicago, 16 of the 17 Badgers players (Zach Bohannon is in Madison for orientation to the UW MBA program and will join the team in progress) and staff hopped a midday flight to Ottawa.
The team was met with English and French speaking Customs officials, to which Bo Ryan deadpanned, "I think those four years of French 1 are going to come in handy on this trip."
Upon arrival, the team was given literature on the history of Ottawa and Canada at large. Did you know Dan Aykroyd, Paul Anka, Alanis Morissette and Matthew Perry are Ottawa natives? Neither did we.
The drive in to downtown Ottawa showed off the beautiful riverside and historic buildings and gave the travel party just a glimpse of what tomorrow's walking tour of the city will hold.
After checking into the downtown hotel and grabbing a quick snack, it was off to the trip's only practice at the Raven's Nest at Carleton University. Bo Ryan led the team through an hour and a half workout, further acclimating the team to the international FIBA rules that will be enforced tomorrow night.
Then it was back to the hotel for a late bite to eat and a soft bed. Tomorrow is gameday.