It’s no secret that the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team and Lincoln, Nebraska don’t get along — before or after the Nebraska Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. However, the Badgers (22-2, 10-1 B1G) managed to figure out the Huskers in a 65-55 victory that looks closer than it actually was.
It’s also no secret that Badger fans have been wondering when Sam Dekker would live up to the legend he made in high school at the Kohl Center. So, perhaps it is a bit ironic that Dekker reminded a fanbase that has been overly critical of his play just how good he is (and can be) by doing it on the road.
Dekker managed to tie a career high with 21 points on an impressive 8 of 13 shooting and added eight rebounds in the winning effort. If it weren’t for Dekker’s career night the Badgers would’ve been in some serious trouble.
That’s because the Huskers managed to outscore the Badgers in the paint and hold Wisconsin to just 39.1 percent from the field. However, Wisconsin managed to also play some defense and that’s what mattered most in getting the win.
Dekker got help from senior forward Frank Kaminsky, who had his ninth double-double of the season on 13 points and 12 rebounds. Still, Kaminsky wasn’t nearly as efficient or key to how the Badgers ended up holding off a late charge by the Huskers.
What stood out the most was a sequence of four or five backdoor cuts by Dekker that led to easy baskets in the first half alone. It allowed Wisconsin to take a 27-13 lead in to the half at a place they don’t much like playing.
”This is one of the best teams in the Big Ten at home. If you look at their home record throughout the whole season, it’s significantly better at home than on the road, and we knew that coming in and we knew they’d feed off their crowd,” said Frank Kaminsky. ”We were able to neutralize it.”
Dekker’s ability to cut to the hoop and get things going early in the contest certainly helped to neutralize what was a jacked up crowd. He also managed to score six of the Badgers’ first 11 points, including four of the seven as UW raced out to a 7-0 start to the game.
While Dekker scored 13 of his 21 points in the first half, Dekker also managed to pick his teammates up in key moments during the second half as well. First, Dekker his a tripe with just 1 second left on the shot clock early in the half, putting UW up 38-23. Then, with the Badgers struggling hard to hit from the field with just under five minutes to play, Dekker nailed his second triple of the half with 8 seconds left on the shot clock.
Wisconsin went up 50-37 with 4:47 left to play, and it helped keep the Badgers lead on the insurmountable tip.
It’s that kind of dominating play that some in Badger nation have been looking for from Dekker on a nearly game-by-game basis. However, this isn’t a team like Kansas or Louisville where there can be much more of a one-man offense happening.
“When the offense isn’t going, that is the great thing about our team,” Kaminsky said, via Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Other people can step up. My job tonight was to get rebounds, play defense and kick the ball to other people when they were open.”
Dekker’s 21-point days have been few and far between, but is that more a byproduct of Wisconsin’s offensive system or the fact that he just doesn’t have the personality to take over whenever and wherever he wants.
What we do know is that Bo Ryan demands team play first and foremost. How many times have we seen Ryan sit anyone and everyone that makes a huge mental mistake or turns the ball over? If you’ve been keeping count big ups to you, because we lost count a long time ago (even this season alone).
Dekker has been that playmaker and scorer when the team needed it (a la last night), but he’s also been the guy to get a big rebound or come up with a key blocked shot as well.
So far this season Dekker has a career high in points (13.2), has the lowest turnover rate of his career (1.0) and his shooting the best percentage from the field and free throw line. Dekker also happens to have scored in double digits in 19 of the Badgers’ 24 games this season, compared to seven games where he failed to reach double digits.
This season the Badgers wing has managed to score in double digits in all but one of the Big Ten games to date. Last season he failed to reach double digits in five of the 18 conference contests, meaning with seven games left to play Dekker would be hard pressed to not be much more improved against the conference slate.
Even more impressive is just how big a jump he’s taken in some of the tempo-free stats. Dekker has jumped nearly 10 points in his offensive rating since last season, going from a 114.6 rating last season to a 123.4 offensive rating this year.
Dekker’s effective field goal and true shooting percentage’s are the highest of his career and so is his +/- number (12.6 compared to 9.3 last season).
The point is, no matter how you measure it, Dekker is having a much bigger and more important impact on the Badgers this season.
So, while Frank Kaminsky may lead the way don’t think for a second that Sam Dekker isn’t living up to the potential he had coming out of Sheboygan Lutheran high school three years ago. He’s actually finally putting it all together, and it came at exactly the right time on Tuesday night in Lincoln.