Jan. 27, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- This speaks to Traevon Jackson’s mindset, Part I. Through nearly 36 minutes, he had taken only three shots and had missed all three in the first half against Nebraska. But the fearless Wisconsin point guard was still thinking makes not misses – still confident that the next shot was going down – when another scoring opportunity presented itself in the closing moments of the Jan. 6 game in Lincoln.
Never mind that he had made just one of five field goal attempts in the Jan. 3 Big Ten opener against Penn State. Never mind that he was now 1 of his last 8 from the field in the two games combined. Jackson still wanted the ball. With the Badgers protecting a 40-38 lead, Jackson got dribble penetration on Nebraska’s Benny Parker and scored with his right hand on a hard drive to the rim.
He wasn’t done, either. After the Cornhuskers closed within three, 44-41, with 31 seconds remaining, Jackson calmly made a jumper to seal a hard-fought if not artistic 47-41 win. His clutch gene – and we all know where he got that from – was on display again in Wisconsin’s shocking upset of No. 2 Indiana. This time, he knocked down his patented pull-up jumper during a critical second-half stretch.
This speaks to Traevon Jackson’s mindset, the Sequel. Coming into Saturday’s game against rival Minnesota at the Kohl Center, he had made just 3 of his last 19 shots. Never mind that he was 1-of-10 in the Iowa loss, never mind that he was 2-of-9 in the Michigan State loss. Jackson still wanted the ball. “I don’t have any fear,” he confirmed afterward. “I didn’t have any doubts. I felt that I’d hit those shots.”
The first came with 63 seconds left and the Badgers trailing by two points, 43-41. After Sam Dekker got doubled on the right block by Minnesota’s Andre Ingram and Rodney Williams, he managed a kick back to the wing and Mike Bruesewitz who then reversed the ball to Jackson at the top of the key. “Whenever you get the defense moving like that, it’s going to help (free up a shooter),” Dekker said.
Trevor Mbakwe was forced to switch on the perimeter and the 6-foot-8, 248-pound center was definitely more vulnerable defensively this far away from the rim. “I was able to get a little bit of space on him,” acknowledged Jackson whose basket knotted the game. This sequence was important because it would be the precursor to another one-on-one matchup between the 6-2 Jackson and Mbakwe.
Earlier in the second half, Mbakwe had raced to the right wing and blocked a shot attempt by Wisconsin’s 5-11 guard George Marshall. This is part of Minnesota’s make-up: the block party. The Gophers have led the Big Ten in blocked shots in each of the past four years and they were averaging 6.5 through the first six conference games this season. They had eight against Northwestern last week.
Jackson may have been conscious of that tendency – knowing that Mbakwe would aggressively attempt to block his shot given a chance – when he drew Mbakwe to the right of the key after rubbing off Andre Hollins on a Jared Berggren screen. “I heard the crowd getting anxious,” said Jackson, cognizant of the shot clock. “And I knew what I wanted to do if I got a step past him.”
Jackson pulled up, anchored his pivot foot, and made a little pump fake which accomplished its goal: Mbakwe went for the block and left his feet. While Mbakwe was sailing out of position, Jackson launched his shot with tender loving care – and the proper degree of backspin – accounting perhaps for the friendly and forgiving bounce that he got off the rim. “Shooters’ touch,” he said with a smile.
“I’ve got the good Lord on my side,” Jackson said. “I don’t ever doubt.”
Despite the cold-blooded shot, the game’s outcome was still in doubt. On a side-out, a Minnesota in-bounds play, Williams fed a lob to Mbakwe in the paint and Bruesewitz was called for a foul. Mbakwe, though, injured his right wrist on the play – a lingering injury – and he was unable to shoot the free throws. Wisconsin was then allowed to select the shooter from the four on the floor.
Williams was the choice.
“That was the best odds,” said UW associate head coach Greg Gard.
Williams, a senior, was a 58 percent shooter. That was his career number spanning 120 games. This season, he was 65 percent. But he has been in the throes of an offensive slump the last two weeks. Before Saturday’s game, he was 8-of-14 (.571) from the line against Wisconsin. In the first half, he was 1-of-2. In this pressure situation, he was again 1-of-2. Dekker rebounded the miss. Game over.
What a crazy finish. “You could say that,” agreed Dekker, who spoke in short bursts like the energy that he has been bringing off the bench during his freshman season with the Badgers. “Physical … hard … tough … rivalry … great crowd … it was tough to score for everyone … but this was a gritty win and hopefully it will propel us ... it was needed … can’t stand losing.”
Dekker gave Wisconsin a measurable lift in the first half after Minnesota took its biggest lead of the game, 19-11. Ryan put three starters on the bench and juggled his lineup. Joining Dekker was Marshall, Ryan Evans, Ben Brust and Zach Bohannon. On a subsequent 11-2 run, Evans had six points and Dekker had five. Berggren subbed for Bohannon and the Badgers extended the run to 13-2.
“When you come up flat like that, you have to try different combinations that will work,” rationalized Dekker. “Z-Bo gave us some good minutes (five during that stretch) and me and George came off the bench and got to do our thing. When you can throw different looks at them (the opponent) and be confident in the unit that you have out there, you’re tougher to stop.”
The Badgers had all the momentum at the end of the half until Dekker tried to hit Berggren on a deep post pattern. The in-bounds pass wound up in the UW band and since Berggren didn’t get a hand on the ball, Minnesota regained possess under its own basket with three seconds to play. Marshall compounded things when he fouled Dre Hollins beyond the arc, and he made all three free throws.
“That’s a pass that I make every time in practice,” Dekker said. “But I didn’t get enough air under it. Usually I get it real close to the scoreboard (hanging above mid-court) and it comes out around the free throw line; sometimes right next to the hoop. I darted it a little too much.”
Dekker made up for it with some of his shot-making – he finished with 10 points tying Evans for the team high – and he also pulled down six rebounds, a personal Big Ten high. Dekker had zero rebounds in 13 minutes against Michigan State.
“I don’t know how many shots they took,” he said of the Gophers who attempted 46, “but to hold them to only eight offensive rebounds was a key.”
The Gophers were averaging 16 per game in the Big Ten and rebounding 48 percent of their misses. Two of Dekker’s rebounds came off missed free throws in the final two minutes. The Badgers got some huge defensive stops during crunch time, none bigger than when Brust drew a charge on Andre Hollins with 39 seconds remaining. “That was the biggest play of the game,” Jackson said.
The Badgers won’t have much time to dwell on the victory since they will return to action Tuesday night at Ohio State in what will be a homecoming for Jackson, the Columbus area native. “It will be fun to see my family and friends,” he said. “I look forward going against Aaron Craft, who’s really a good defender, probably the best in the country. We just have to go there and do what we do.”
On Saturday afternoon against Minnesota, it was just enough.
“That’s the type of game,” Jackson concluded, “that you have to finish out.”