March 11, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson never looked back on last Thursday's loss at Michigan State where he went scoreless for the first time in 22 games. But he did look back on the first half Sunday at Penn State -- where he made just one of five shots -- and used the misses for motivation.
Going into the second half against the plucky Nittany Lions, who were clinging to a one-point lead and looking for their third win in four games, Jackson insisted, "I felt good. My shots weren't way right or way left; they were just long. I told myself, `Keep being aggressive. They'll fall.' And they fell.''
Never mind that Jackson had made only two of his last 12 shots from beyond the 3-point arc over the last six games; never mind that he was shooting 26 percent from that distance in all games and had never made more than two triples in any single game during his first two years with the Badgers.
Jackson once again delivered in the clutch by going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers, including the game-winner at the buzzer Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center. In lifting the Badgers to a 63-60 win over Penn State, Jackson produced 13 of his career-high 15 points in the second half.
Coupled with Indiana's victory over Michigan -- which allowed the Hoosiers to claim the outright Big Ten regular season championship, their first in two decades -- Wisconsin finished among the top four teams in the conference for an eye-opening 12th-consecutive season under head coach Bo Ryan.
"I liked the way our guys responded,'' Ryan said.
Although he could have been talking about the big picture and how the Badgers overcame a season-ending injury to Josh Gasser in October, he was actually referring to the challenge of playing the late game Thursday in East Lansing and the early game Sunday in State College.
There was also the matter of "springing ahead'' to Daylight Savings time -- "Try figuring that out when you're trying to get your sleep,'' Ryan suggested -- and the foul trouble that limited Ryan Evans to only two points and two rebounds in 19 minutes against the Nittany Lions.
In the end, Ryan concluded that the players "managed to pick each other up,'' which bodes well for the postseason and one-and-done basketball. The Badgers were able to stay out of the Thursday bracket in the Big Ten tournament due in large part to Jackson's poise under pressure Sunday.
"He doesn't waver,'' Ryan said of Jackson, one of four UW players who scored in double-figures at Penn State. "And you don't have to be a true point guard, you don't have to be a shooting guard, you don't have to be a power forward to be able to make shots when they matter.''
Wisconsin freshman Sam Dekker knows something about this topic. A year ago, Dekker rallied Sheboygan Lutheran to a WIAA state championship with a flurry of points in the final minute of the Division 5 title game, including the game-winning 3-pointer with six seconds left against Racine Lutheran.
When asked about Jackson's big shot tendencies, Dekker said, "We just trust the ball in his hands ... Right now with the way it looks, he's on the top of the list with people you want taking the last shot because he's got that confidence that he knows that he can hit those shots.''
Jackson almost didn't a chance to take the game-winner. After Penn State's D.J. Newbill shot the Nittany Lions into a 60-60 tie with 5.6 seconds left, Wisconsin's first inbounds attempt went awry. Mike Bruesewitz rolled the ball to Jackson, who was tied up by an alert and aggressive Nick Colella.
It's a tactic that almost everybody uses in late game situations -- a roll of the dice, if you will, by rolling the ball on the floor to eat up some distance and preserve some time. The clock doesn't start until the ball is touched. "Trae maybe let it roll one too many roles,'' Dekker opined.
That was exactly the case. "That was a dumb play by me. I put Mike in a bad situation, I kind of left him hanging,'' said Jackson, who was most grateful that the possession arrow favored Wisconsin on the tie-up with Colella. "When the dude (Colella) dove for the ball, I said, `Awww, man.''
On the subsequent inbounds, Jackson dribbled to daylight along the left boundary. Keep in mind that Jackson is left-handed, something which Penn State's Kevin Montminy may have not taken into consideration. "For some reason, they let me drive to the left,'' Jackson said.
That was huge. "I didn't want to get stopped and change directions,'' Jackson acknowledged. "I wanted to go straight into the shot. When I got to my spot, I knew that I'd be able to get a shot off. It felt good, too. There are some shots that come off your hand and they look good the whole way.
"I just kind of knew it was going to go in.''
So did Dekker. "We've all seen Trae have great games,'' he said, "and we've also seen Trae have some bad stretches that he knows that he has to work on.
"But we still have confidence in him and he has confidence in himself and he has shown that he can hit the big shot this year.''
Dekker expanded his game Sunday with post-up moves that drew fouls. He wound up making a season-high seven of eight free throws. "We thought as the game went on, he had an advantage in there,'' said UW coach Gary Close. "Because of his length, he's a bit of a matchup problem.''
It's all part of the learning process, Dekker agreed.
"Throughout the course of the season,'' he said, "I've gotten much better at posting up; using my body and realizing that I'm 6-8 and I'm long and I can score. I'm not as weak as I sometimes think I am. I have to be able to make a tough move, force the issue and make it tough on the defense.''
What can this last-second win do for Wisconsin's confidence?
"I was talking to Ben (Brust) right before we went into the locker room after the game,'' recounted Dekker. "I said, `This could be a mojo-shifter.' After losing two straight, we were kind of down on ourselves. This will hopefully be a momentum-shifter going into the Big Ten tournament.''