When Jared Berggren stepped onto the Kohl Center floor Tuesday night, he knew he needed to swat away two balls to tie the all-time Wisconsin record for blocks in a career.
And he wasted no time attacking that record in a 77-46 stomping of Nebraska (13-15, 4-11 Big Ten), grabbing two of them in the opening 1:16 and quickly tying Rashard Griffith, who collected 124 blocks in just two seasons for the Badgers. The record-breaking block – one Berggren said he was not sure would be scored as a block – came before halftime, and he flashed a wide smile as the Jumbotron showed him taking a seat on the bench, the career line of a record 125 career blocks flashing just below his name.
“To think about all the good players that have come through here and for me to come out on top of that record, it’s a pretty cool moment,” Berggren said. “I’m not a guy that’s real big on individual accomplishments and individual stats, but [it’s] kind of a cool deal.”
On a night when Wisconsin (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) had no problem finding the bottom of the net, Berggren’s final numbers were far from eye-popping. The four blocks he finished with matched his four points on the night, as he took only four shots and quietly pulled down six rebounds.
But, as has often been his most treasured skill in his four years playing for the Badgers, he proved a defensive enforcer inside against the Cornhuskers.
“He doesn’t intimidate because he’s got a bad haircut, he doesn’t intimidate because he looks mean, he doesn’t intimidate because he’s got 900 tattoos,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “He intimidates by his presence and his timing. And it’s not just the blocks.”
Ryan added Berggren’s most underrated skill as a shot-blocker is his ability to avoid foul trouble in the process of dismissing balls orbiting around the rim. He has not fouled out in a game this season and has only finished twice with four personal fouls.
To explain just how difficult and critical it is to block shots without fouling, Ryan reflected on a game from his days coaching at University of Wisconsin-Platteville when the opponent attempted to block every single shot and his Pioneers shot just 29 percent from the field. Their lone saving grace was they hit 30-plus free throws, escaping with an ugly victory thanks to an opponent decimated by foul trouble.
“Blocking shots sometimes can get you in foul trouble if the offensive player reads you the right way,” Ryan said. “Jared’s forte is that he gets those blocks without fouling.”
Dekker not running out of power
Watching Sam Dekker bury a struggling Nebraska team Tuesday night felt like peering into the future of the talented freshman.
Dekker, who led the Badgers with 19 points on a hyper-efficient 5-of-6 performance from the floor, hit three-pointers with a consistency that should startle future Big Ten opponents. With Ryan’s swing offense in prime form, UW spread the ball around with marked precision, often giving up decent looks at the hoop in favor of teammates who had an even more open look at the basket.
“It’s good to have guys who are hitting shots, because you just make the extra pass and you know that there’s a high possibility that it’s going down,” junior guard Ben Brust, who finished with 13 points, said. “Every time Sam had the ball I ran back because I knew it was going in.”
Despite not seeing action for the first several minutes of play, the star freshman quickly announced his arrival on the hardwood with a pair of three-pointers in under five minutes midway through the first half. Scoring his lone basket of the night from inside the three-point arc in between those long-range jumpers, Dekker was the proud owner of 13 points by halftime.
In one of the most complete performances of his young career, he also dished out four of Wisconsin’s 19 assists against the Huskers. It was those extra passes that showed Dekker can be more than a pure scorer capable of creating his own shot – proving he can also operate as an offensive generator.
The freshman, whose 19 points tied a career high notched against Arkansas in November, is now shooting at a team-best 44.8 percent clip from three-point territory.
“Just knowing my spots, when to attack, when to be aggressive and when to take shots,” Dekker said. “It helps a lot when these guys have a lot of faith in you when you go out there. They don’t mind when I put a bad shot up once in awhile, because they know I have the skill and the talents to make that.
“So just the confidence that my teammates put in me and I have in myself, that’s pretty much the reason I’ve been playing better.”
Now comes the challenge of maintaining that moxy as the Badgers creep back into the Big Ten title race and begin a definitive three-game stretch to close out the regular season.