Jan. 6, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Everything had been falling into place so neatly for Wisconsin during a 14-0 run to start the season that some may have questioned how the Badgers might handle a little adversity.
They got that answer Sunday in the Big Ten home opener at the Kohl Center. Iowa got off to a 15-4 start, and weathered a 16-6 counter-punch from UW by scoring 14 of the next 18 points to lead by 11 at halftime.
Even though Ben Brust and Sam Dekker were a combined 0-for-9 from the floor -- Dekker had one point on 1-of-4 shooting from the free throw line -- neither panicked. But they both had flashbacks.
"The Florida game," Brust pointed out, "was kind of like that early on."
"We came out a little stagnant," Dekker agreed, "and didn't hit good shots."
The Badgers opened their home season against the Gators in early November and Florida promptly took advantage of Wisconsin's cold shooting to lead 16-4 less than 13 minutes into the game.
But Dekker jumped-started the offense with back-to-back triples and the Badgers rallied to take a 29-26 halftime lead they would not relinquish in picking up a quality 59-53 intersectional win.
On a sub-zero Sunday night in Madison, it was Brust who had the jumper cables against Iowa. And it nearly played out the way Dekker had foreshadowed it would during the intermission break, with a spark igniting the Badgers to a 75-71 win.
"I was talking to the guys in the locker room right before we went back out (for the second half)," recounted Dekker, "and I said, `Hey, we've got the ball out (for the first possession), we're going to get a bucket here, get a stop and then we'll get another bucket and we're down 6 or 7."'
Sure enough, Brust drilled his first shot -- a 3-pointer from the left wing on a feed from Frank Kaminsky -- to give the Badgers some much-needed momentum against the Hawkeyes.
"It was like, `All right, you made a shot, now just play some basketball and stop thinking,"' Brust said. "We were all kind of tense and not playing our game (in the first half). It just wasn't us out there."
Brust drained another triple at the 16-minute mark to pull the Badgers within five points, 37-32. The ball was swung from Kaminsky to Dekker to Traevon Jackson to Brust for the wide open look.
"When Ben gets hot like that no one can really guard him," Dekker said. "His range is unlimited and when they come up on him, he drives by them and finds guys in the corner."
Brust felt like the Badgers made some timely adjustments at halftime and "we came out and played some good basketball and took the lead in a crazy sequence of events."
The Hawkeyes were clinging to a 41-39 lead when Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey had an epic meltdown, drawing two technical fouls and an ejection from the game at 11:51 of the second half.
Brust converted all four free throws -- "They all didn't feel good but they went in, and that's all that counts," he said -- and the Badgers had an invaluable cushion to work with down the stretch.
Dekker saved his best for last -- the last three minutes of the game. Waking from his offensive slumber -- he missed his first nine shots -- he delivered with a couple of clutch baskets.
"During a timeout," Dekker recalled, "a bunch of guys said that it was time to hit a big shot. I turned to our coaches and said, `I'm due; I'm ready to hit one.'
"I got an offensive board, kicked it out to Josh (Gasser) and he found me in the corner and I was able to bury it (a 3-pointer). That really felt good. Usually I don't show much emotion after I hit a shot.
"But on that one, I let out a pretty big yell just because there was a lot of pent-up frustration ... My shots felt good all night, they were just a little long. My form felt good.
"I just didn't let myself get down," said Dekker, who finished with eight points, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals. "I didn't change my expression. I knew my time was coming."
|"It's basketball -- not every game is going to go perfectly like you want," Brust said. "But it's how you respond."
So did his teammates. "I don't think Sam shot the ball well the whole game, but he doesn't care," Brust said. "He knows that he's going to hit the next one for us and he did that late in the game."
Not everything is going to be easy or pretty. "It's basketball -- not every game is going to go perfectly like you want," Brust said. "But it's how you respond."
It's Nigel Hayes getting in foul trouble against Iowa and Duje Dukan scoring six points and grabbing seven rebounds in 20 minutes, the most that he has played since the season opener.
"I just tried to be aggressive and contribute in any way that I could," said Dukan, "whether that was rebounding or hitting open shots or playing some defense."
It's Josh Gasser snapping out of an offensive slump -- he had made just 3 of his last 18 field goal attempts, including 2 of 12 from beyond the arc -- to score 14 points against the Hawkeyes.
It's Gasser doing other things to help the team win -- he had 10 assists and zero turnovers -- when his shot wasn't falling over that four-game stretch. He also played his usual lockdown defense.
It's believing in the sum of their parts. "We just have to find a way to get the `W' as a team," Brust said. "We can't panic. We have to do the things that made us successful throughout the year."
This looms as a special year in the Big Ten because there are so many quality teams; hungry teams like Illinois, which will be Wisconsin's next test Wednesday night at the Kohl Center.
"It's going to be a very physical league," Dekker said, "and it's going to be a battle every night."
A year ago, Dekker was cast in a different role. Outside of three starts in the intra-state series against Marquette, Milwaukee and Green Bay, he was a sixth man. Now, he's more of a "marked man."
"Especially now that we're doing well, teams are going to have that big bullseye on you and limit the looks that you have," Dekker conceded. "It's just a matter of staying mentally focused.
"Having a year under my belt really helped me grow as a leader. But we have five guys who are going to be leading and we all bring different things to the table."
The Badgers are 15-0 for the first time since gas was 12 cents a gallon. That was 100 years ago.
"We embrace the role we're given," Dekker said. "I love the chemistry we have and the unity we have on the court to go along with the cohesiveness in the locker room.
"We all get along; we all want to see each other succeed. When you have that mindset, you're going to work together for a common purpose."
The Florida and Iowa wins have been telling from another perspective.
"That we're resilient," Dekker said.