March 16, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHICAGO -- In the midst of addressing his own toughness and grit, Wisconsin’s sophomore point guard, Traevon Jackson, was in effect turning the spotlight on his team’s resiliency and ability to counter-punch after an opponent has landed a blow.
Asked about trying to be solid, not spectacular, in all facets of his game, Jackson said, “That’s what I work for. I can always get better. I still had some turnovers today that I shouldn’t have had. But I don’t really let that get to me as long as I’m being aggressive.’’
After Indiana went on a 10-0 run to take a 41-40 lead in the second half Saturday afternoon, the Badgers stayed aggressive and countered with a 10-2 haymaker that was the defining sequence in Wisconsin’s 68-56 victory over the Hoosiers at the United Center.
“I thought we got some easy buckets in transition, and that started on the defensive end,’’ Jackson said, noting that Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz were “cleaning up the boards and we were able to get out and run and get some open shots.’’
Sam Dekker was seated to Jackson’s right in the UW locker room, and Jackson couldn’t help but notice the media crowd surrounding the freshman who scored nine of his 11 points in the second half -- including seven straight during the 10-2 spurt. “Sam provided a huge spark for us off the bench, he had some big plays,’’ Jackson said.
Dekker struggled in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Michigan. After scoring in double-figures in seven of the Badgers’ last eight games, he failed to score from the field (0-for-4) for the first time this season. Dekker’s two points were his fewest since the Jan. 3 Big Ten opener.
“I didn’t play well (Friday) and I really never got in the flow, ’’ Dekker admitted. “Today I just let the game come to me. I still had a pretty slow first half. But Coach (Bo Ryan) puts me in there because he trusts that stuff is going to turn around. I got some free looks at the hoop and I got some driving lanes and I got us going.’’
When Dekker was reminded that the Badgers had swept both Michigan and Indiana -- with only one of the four victories coming at the Kohl Center -- he said, “We’re well-coached and we’ve been prepared for these teams. We’re confident in knowing that we’re a good team that can play with anyone in the nation.’’
Asked again about the difference in his play from one game to the next, Dekker said, “I’m much better when I stay patient and I look for my opportunities to attack. What kind of got me going is that we had a couple of leak-outs, and I love playing in the open court. I think that’s what got my confidence up.’’
After the first media wave had cleared out, Ben Brust was left with his thoughts in front of his locker. Brust jumped-started the Badgers with a deep triple that set the stage for Dekker’s seven-point explosion. “Sam had his own run, as always,’’ Brust said, grinning.
Expanding on Dekker’s impact, Brust added, “When you get Sam the ball in the open court, you never know what’s going to happen with him -- mostly good things.’’
Dekker clearly outplayed Indiana’s Will Sheehey, who was selected as the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year. Sheehey had just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. “Whenever Sam is contributing, we’re a better team,’’ Brust said.
How would he describe this latest upswing in play by the Badgers? “I think we’re still the same team that we’ve been all year,’’ Brust said. “It helps when we’re playing good basketball together. Collectively, we’re playing really good ball. Everyone is contributing.’’
The Badgers had 10 blocked shots (Evans had four) and nine steals (Brust had two). That factored into the overall defensive effort against the Hoosiers.
“We did a good job of playing good team defense,’’ Brust said.
None of this, by the way, came as a surprise to anybody in the UW locker room. Maybe the outside world is having trouble getting its arms around the Badgers. But there’s no shortage of confidence inside this close-knit group of players.
“I think we just know that we can play with anyone,’’ Brust said without the slightest hint of brashness. “It’s good to know that. But we’re going to have to bring the same energy (against Ohio State) and the same fight that we’ve had’’ against Michigan and Indiana.
Jackson brought context to the Wisconsin’s latest surge over the last two days in the Big Ten tournament. “We felt like this was the second season and we wanted to end on a good note and get ready for the NCAA tournament,’’ he said. “This is a good boost for us.’’
Who knows where it will end, too.
“We have a lot of confidence in each other,’’ Jackson said, “and when that happens, a lot of special things can happen.’’