With a commanding 13-point lead by the halftime break, one notable freshman shouldered much of the offensive load for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team in a 81-56 victory over California.
Freshman phenomenon Sam Dekker — who entered Sunday night’s game as the third-highest scoring freshman in the Big Ten — attacked the basket early and often, an essential tactic in the Badgers’ (5-3) eventual rout of the Golden Bears (6-1). The defining series of Dekker’s 10-point half came after he sunk a three-pointer, forced a steal, then raced down to the other side of the hardwood and completed an old-school three-point play after a Cal defender fouled him.
After UW missed its first five shot attempts of the game, the 6-foot-7 forward’s aggressive approach anchored a momentum-turning 19-4 run at the Kohl Center.
“He was able to get a couple creases and he’s pretty good at finishing around the basket,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “So other teams we’ve played, they take that away, and some teams, because of the way they play, he might get a couple of those as long as you’re finishing strong.”
The former Sheboygan Lutheran Star is now tied with Ryan Evans as the Badgers’ No. 3 scorer with 10.5 points per game and proved exactly why he’s such an exciting prospect for Wisconsin fans. Showing a firm handle on the ball throughout the opening period, he attacked the hoop with impressive control both head-on and along the baseline; seven of his 10 points came on layups (one was an “and-one”).
It was enough to make a lasting impression on Cal head coach Mike Montgomery, a man who has spent nearly four decades coaching college basketball.
“He’s a good player; there’s no question about that,” Montgomery said. “He’s the real deal; he could be a stretch four, could be a three. He’s got a really nice stroke and he’s very, very confident for a freshman. He came in and I think he probably surprised Allen [Crabbe] one time; he posted up and got a foul on him.”
Despite an electric first half in which he went 4-5 from the floor, Dekker missed all three of his shots in the second half and did not contribute a single point. Ryan pointed out that he tried to force scoring opportunities later in the game, as the second-half drought showed that while the freshman is comfortably ahead of the typical learning curve, he is still adjusting to the collegiate game.
“He’s just learning, but he did give us a good spark,” Ryan said.
Turnovers key in pulling away
In a game where bodies flew to the floor and loose balls abounded, Wisconsin’s 25 points off turnovers proved a deciding factor in the lopsided final score.
The Badgers forced their Pac-12 opponent to fork the ball over a season-high 23 times, the combined product of strong defense and sloppy ball control by the Bears.
“Two things you stress are not turning the ball over for baskets and not giving up second-chance points, and we gave up 43 (combined), so that didn’t give us much opportunity to win,” Montgomery said. “But we had fumble-itis out there; most guys couldn’t catch the ball.”
After falling victim to uncharacteristic defensive lapses in a loss to Virginia Wednesday, UW managed to hold Cal’s standout guard Justin Cobbs — the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week who averages 20 points per game — to 11 points and, most importantly, seven turnovers.
Wisconsin itself turned the ball over 13 times, but Cal converted those miscues into just 10 points. As the Badgers cruised to victory over a team that qualified for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Ryan’s trademark defense was once again a key ingredient in the recipe for success Sunday afternoon.
“When Cobbs was getting in the lane; we tried to drop it off a few times to the bigs,” senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “Our guards did a good job of coming down and helping us out, of just getting their hands on the ball.
“We don’t really track tips, but if we were to look at this game, how many tips we had, how many of those tips resulted in steals, it would be a pretty high percentage and that’s kind of the biggest thing that happened in this game.”
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