MADISON, Wis. -- Informed that he had impacted the game with his defense on three of four consecutive Minnesota possessions in the second half of Thursday night’s win at the Kohl Center, Sam Dekker got a quizzical look on his face and confessed, “I didn’t even know I had these (type of) possessions.”
Upon further review, the 19-year-old Wisconsin sophomore conceded, “You have to stay active (on defense). Sometimes I’m not as focused as I should be on the defensive end. But with my length and the gifts that I have I should be able to be a pretty good defender.”
To reset: The Badgers led 51-41 with a little over 11 minutes remaining in the second half when the 6-foot-8 Dekker got a deflection on a pass intended for Minnesota’s Joey King.
“They like King on the top (of their offense) and they had the ball in the short corner,” said Dekker, reconstructing the play. “I had pretty good position on him and I used my length and just tipped it (the ball) out ahead. We both went to the floor and then Josh (Gasser) came in and scrapped for it.”
Turnover: King. (On points off turnovers, the Badgers outscored the Gophers, 13-1.)
On Minnesota’s next offensive possession, Andre Hollins was matched against Dekker. Over the last two seasons, Hollins had scored 18, 20, 21 and 20 points against the Badgers. He hit his first shot in the Jan. 22 game at Minneapolis, but sprained his ankle when he landed on Gasser’s foot.
Hollins, who was playing in his third game since returning from the injury, scored six of the Gophers first eight points Thursday night and would finish with a flurry of 3-pointers (4-of-6) and a game-high 22 points. Hollins is one of the more unsung players in the Big Ten.
“He’s a great shot-maker and attacker,” said Dekker, who then described what happened when they went one-on-one. “He crossed me over – he almost made me fall over – and beat me pretty bad. But I was able to recover and use my length again and block a shot."
Highlights: Wisconsin 78, Minnesota 70
It was the only blocked shot of the night for the UW and it was Dekker’s 11th in 25 games this season. He trails Frank Kaminsky (43) and Nigel Hayes (16) in this category. As a freshman, Dekker had 14 blocks in 35 games, 32 coming off the bench. He’s averaging 30 minutes now compared to 22 then.
Two possessions after the Hollins rejection, Dekker got a block-out and a defensive rebound after Minnesota’s DeAndre Mathieu missed a lay-up. Dekker ended up with a game-high seven rebounds, all of them on the defensive glass. The Gophers had just six second-chance points.
“They got to the rim at will against us,” Dekker said of the Gophers 81-68 win in Minneapolis, “and they killed us inside and on the boards. So we just tried to make a focused effort for all five guys in the paint: Don’t allow penetration. Don’t allow the easy inside buckets.”
After giving up 48 points in the paint in the earlier loss, Wisconsin’s limited the Gophers to just 20 points on Thursday. Maurice Walker, who had a career-high 18, was neutralized by foul trouble and a UW defense that fronted the post and denied him the ball. He had two shots and five points overall.
“You have to give them (the Badgers) credit,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, “they did a great job adjusting to the things that we hurt them with our first game… they did a great job of not allowing us to throw the ball in the paint and into the post. They did a great job of adjusting.”
Asked about the adjustments, UW senior guard Ben Brust said, “We didn’t really change a whole lot. We just played better team defense – helping each other out. And we cleaned up the glass pretty decently. There were not as many second-chance points. We also did a better job of controlling the pace.”
Although point guard Traevon Jackson was ill and missed Wednesday’s practice, he still managed to play 28 strong minutes against the Gophers. He had a lot to do with managing the pace. He was efficient, too, making 3-of-4 shots from the field and free throw line, while turning it over just once.
“Trae was under the weather,” Dekker said, “but he gutted it out.”
“We just tried to make a focused effort for all five guys in the paint: Don’t allow penetration. Don’t allow the easy inside buckets,” Dekker said.
"Brust used the same words “gutted it out” and added, “He did what he needed to do. He didn’t do anything spectacular, he didn’t do anything terrible. He controlled the pace and he did a good job.”
After making just 10 of his previous 40 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, Brust got back on track by going 4-of-4 against Minnesota. It was the fourth time this season that he has had four triples in a game; his season high is five, which he has done twice (Bowling Green and Eastern Kentucky).
When quizzed on the value of making his first shot on Thursday, he said, “It definitely helped; it’s never a bad thing when your shot goes in (first or last).”
Against Michigan State, he was 1-of-8 from 3-point range. Did he feel any different? “Absolutely not, to be honest,” he said. “Same type of looks. But I went back to basics, just shooting around in the gym by myself (this past week) and I just knocked them down (against Minnesota).”
So did the Badgers from the free throw line. They were 30-of-36 (.833), including 11-of-12 in the final 1:39 to close out the Gophers. Over the last seven games, Dekker is 29 of his last 36 (.805) while Kaminsky is 29 of his last 31 (.935). He was 9-of-9 on Thursday.
“I’ve just gone out there and shot with confidence,” Kaminsky said.
One of the rare sights in college basketball is seeing a 7-footer essentially dribble from coast-to-coast for a slam dunk. But Kaminsky pulled it off with resounding success in the first half.
“I haven’t done that since high school,” said Kaminsky, a junior from Benet Academy (Lisle, Ill.) “It was nice, it was a cool play. I don’t know why I didn’t get fouled or nobody tried to take it (the driving lane) away from me. You could hear the crowd getting louder and louder (with each dribble).”
Normally, he would have pulled up near the top of the key. “Normally,” he repeated. “But no one was in front of me so I kept going.”
The Badgers are hoping to keep their momentum going Sunday at Michigan. And like they had against Minnesota, they will have to make some adjustments – or, at the very least, execute better – than they did on Jan. 18 during a 77-70 loss to the Wolverines at the Kohl Center.
“We can’t give them easy looks off ball screens and cuts and their curl screens,” said Kaminsky.
Michigan shot 55 percent, mostly on mid-range jumpers. “That’s what we want them taking,” Kaminsky said. “But they were making some tough shots. We have to eliminate the easy ones.”
The Wolverines converted on 7-of-13 shots from beyond the arc. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert each had three triples.
“They shot really well here (Madison) and now they’re at home, so they’re going to be even more comfortable,” Dekker said. “We have to make a concerted effort to make every shot tough. Guys like Stauskas and (Glenn) Robinson were coming off curl screens and hitting shots.
“We have to limit that and do what we do and stick to our rules and play defense.”
The Badgers also have to keep attacking on offense, he suggested.
“Collectively, as a team, I think so,” said Dekker, who has scored in double-figures in each of the four games that he has played against the Gophers. “For some reason against Minnesota, I feel like I can see more driving lanes and that opens up stuff for my teammates and myself.”
After Thursday’s game, former UW point guard Jordan Taylor made the rounds in the locker room. Taylor has been playing professionally in Rome, Italy but he has returned to the United States to have some work done on an injured hip. Whereas his season is over, Wisconsin’s is just heating up.
“It’s all about the next 40 minutes,” Kaminsky said.