When the Wisconsin men’s basketball team went on its historic run that peaked at 16-0 to start the season, the biggest asset it held was its ability to have multiple players score in double figures any given night. It was a nightmare for opposing teams to defend, unable to key in on one or two players. Then that asset was gone.
In three of its five ensuing losses, the Badgers failed to get more than two players into double digits, including its loss to Minnesota Jan. 22 in Minneapolis.
Offense wasn’t an issue for Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5 Big Ten) as four players hit the double-digit mark in its 78-70 win over Minnesota (16-9, 5-7) Thursday night at home.
As Wisconsin has slowly been able to right the ship, so has its offense, shooting over 45 percent in its three-straight wins. And as the trend has gone, the Badgers have seen players break out of shooting slumps to help add more balance to the attack that was seen in the first couple of months of the season.
First it was sophomore forward Sam Dekker to break out of his shooting woes after he shot just 32 percent from the field in Wisconsin’s next four games after losing to Minnesota, but rebounded to shoot 44 percent from the floor and go 8-of-17 from deep in the Badgers’ next three games while hitting double digits in all of those games.
Due up next were Frank Kaminsky and Ben Brust.
Heading into the home-matchup with the Gophers, Kaminsky had failed to crack 10 points since Jan. 25 versus Purdue. That was five games ago.
Thursday, Kaminsky played with more assertiveness and effectiveness than has been seen in nearly a month from the Badger big man.
“What he ended up doing looks like its more assertive, but it doesn’t me the other times he hasn’t been trying to do that and the other team just took it away from him,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “So, I don’t get too excited one way or the other as long as I know guys are trying. Some nights you are just more effective than others and he was pretty effective tonight.”
The 7-footer hit 17 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the floor. With the combination of Kaminsky and freshman Nigel Hayes, who put up 15 points, manning the frontcourt, Minnesota had its struggles to find an answer defensively.
“They’re tough to guard,” Richard Pitino said. “They have got some versatile big guys.”
Next it was the lone senior Brust to get off of the schneid.
Brust, who makes his living behind the three-point line, hasn’t enjoyed the comforts of long-range territory going just 10-for-45 from beyond the arc in his last six games heading into Thursday.
His struggles became especially noticeable in Wisconsin’s win last Sunday against Michigan State where Brust went 1-for-8 from deep, but even more concerning was his multiple air balls, a true rarity for Brust.
With just over five minutes gone by in the first half, Brust launched his first three-point attempt, swish. About four minutes later he gave it another go, swish. Then, with less than a minute left in the first half, Brust give it another go from deep, same result.
“It was the same type of looks and just shot it with confidence. You just have to have shooter’s amnesia, forget the last one and the next one’s going in,” Brust said. “They felt how they’ve normally felt my whole career besides the last game before that. It was definitely good to see the first one to go down.
When the night was over Brust was a perfect 4-for-4 from the three-point line and finished with a team-high 20 points.
Ryan was pleased with the way his senior played Sunday, but was quick to point out the things he needs to work on rather than praise his shooting effort.
“He shot it well needless to say and he hustles,” Ryan said “There’s still some things defensively he got to shore up to be better, so if you wanted me to gush I wasn’t going to do it. Be he did shoot it well.”
By the end of 40 minutes, Wisconsin was one Traevon Jackson point away from having five players in double digits.
It was an aggressive effort from the Badgers on both ends of the court that garnered their third-straight win. Something that wasn’t lost on coach Ryan who is familiar with the word aggressive.
“Aggressive, the definition (is) disposition to dominate, from the dictionary,” Ryan said. “I just thought we were better. Working hard, reading and reacting to one another.”