Jan. 13, 2013
After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on Wisconsin's 74-51 win over 12th-ranked Illinois on Saturday.
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Sam Dekker's freshman orientation took a decided upturn Saturday afternoon thanks in part to a fundamental ball fake in the first half and a definitive slam dunk over Illinois' Brandon Paul in the second half that rocked the Kohl Center and had his Wisconsin teammates jumping off the bench in demonstrative poses of disbelief and awe that accented the ferocity of the flush.
First, the backdrop.
Through his first two Big Ten outings, Dekker's shooting percentage and offensive productivity had fallen off from where it had been through the non-conference portion of the schedule when he scored in double-digits in seven of 13 games. In his final league tune-up, Dekker had 12 points, on the strength of 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc, against overmatched Samford.
By sharp contrast, in the Big Ten opener against Penn State (Jan. 3), Dekker played his second fewest minutes (17) and scored his fewest points (2) of the season while going 1-of-6 from the field, 0-of-2 from beyond the arc. Citing his inauspicious conference debut, Dekker admitted, "I was a little frustrated - stuff wasn't coming easy for me. But you have to work through that."
Before the Nebraska game (Jan. 6), Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard pointed out, "The physicality is one thing that he has been exposed to - it hasn't been as easy to finish around the rim because the bodies are bigger - and obviously he's got to get stronger. But that's not going to happen in the next 60 days. In the meantime, he needs to improve some of his techniques."
Dekker played 22 minutes against the Cornhuskers and accounted for seven points (3-of-6) and three rebounds in his first Big Ten road game. Asked about the adjustment to league play, he said, "It's the overall intensity and pace. From non-conference to this, you could tell it was a whole different feel; more energy. It means so much more to people and it's a fresh slate for everybody."
Was he surprised by any of it?
"No," said Dekker, a Parade All-American out of Sheboygan. "I knew it was going to be physical. But you still don't know what it's really going to be like until you go out there and play. It was good to learn in those first two (Big Ten) games. They (coaches and teammates) trust me and know I'll get through that stuff."
Before Saturday's game, Dekker stressed that he had a "clear mind" and he was prepared to "go out there and do what I had to do" against Illinois, one of the early season surprises in the Big Ten even though the Illini were coming off a disappointing home loss to Minnesota. In early December, Illinois scored a marquee victory for the league by going on the road and winning at Gonzaga.
Urgency was not an issue for the Badgers who were intent on holding serve in the Kohl Center. "The last thing we said in the huddle before we ran on the floor is that no one is going to come in here and taking what is ours," Dekker related. "We've got to come out and have more passion and more energy."
That was evident from the very beginning when Wisconsin scored the first 14 points of the game and stunned the Illini. The fast start fell into line with what Dekker was thinking ("I don't know if they respected us greatly") and what first-year Illinois coach John Groce was saying afterward about the aggressive Badgers. "Their competitive spirit was better than ours," Groce emphasized.
Dekker came off the bench and missed his first two 3-pointers. "But they both felt good right out of the hand," he said. "They were long; it was the energy, the excitement." On his third shot attempt, he used a beautiful ball fake to get his defender to leave his feet and drained a triple as the shot clock was winding down. It was a rhythm jumper and Dekker conceded, "That really got me going."
Dekker then assisted on back-to-back 3-points hits by Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson. "We started running and seeing guys (all over the floor) and that's when basketball is fun," Dekker said. "I was totally into it (the flow). Once you get comfortable, it's like, `Yeah, I'm here' and you play your game. Once you get into a rhythm, you feel like no one can stop you."
Midway through the second half, Dekker put a punctuation mark on his overall effort - he finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists - with a thunderous slam which had UW senior Mike Bruesewitz mumbling "Goodness" to himself on the floor. "There might be a clip of me just standing there going `Awwwww, man' because I don't think I got back on defense," Bruesewitz added.
Not that he didn't see it coming. "Sam has that kind of ability; he's athletic and he's got a good feel for the game," Bruesewitz said. "There are times when things get away from him (due to inexperience). Big Ten play is obviously different. It's a lot more physical and that's the biggest thing, the biggest adjustment. Guys are more physical and defensively, they're a lot more dialed in."
Dekker continues to develop at his own pace. "I think I'm just growing more," he said. "I'm comfortable now and I have to be. I don't see myself as a freshman anymore. The freshman stage was done after Christmas and now you have to play like you've been here a long time. I have to be aggressive like that."
Especially Tuesday night at Indiana.