Wisconsin's offense struggled early Tuesday night against a tough Saint Louis defense, but used a balanced offensive attack to hold off the Billikens, 63-57.
The game was a defensive struggle throughout, with both teams looking disjointed offensively. Leads went back and forth throughout most of the first half, but the Badgers gained control of the game in the second half and extended their lead to as much as 15 points. Saint Louis cut Wisconsin's lead to five points with 1:39 left in the game and took advantage of some suspect free throw shooting by the Badgers to make the game interesting down the stretch.
The Billikens forced seven first-half turnovers and generated easy fast break points as a result. Saint Louis entered the game holding opponents to 20.3 percent from behind the arc and lived up to that defensive reputation. Wisconsin attempted a season-low 12 three point attempts, sinking just four. Sam Dekker and Ben Brust in particular struggled from deep, going a combined 1-of-6. Dekker seems to be caught in the middle of a shooting slump stretching back several games. He finished with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting from the floor and never looked comfortable with his jump shot. Dekker also finished a horrible 1-of-4 from the free throw line.
Free throws were a problem for the entire team, as Wisconsin went 17-of-30 from the charity stripe. Against a better team, that type of shooting performance will cost the Badgers an otherwise winnable game.
Early contributions from Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig did help Wisconsin gain control of the game, though. Both freshman played with poise and confidence befitting upperclassman. Hayes didn't back down while defending Saint Louis' taller frontcourt players and was able to use his strength to maintain good defensive position and tally two blocks. Koenig, meanwhile, has displayed constant control with the ball and ran the offense at point guard even with Traevon Jackson on the floor at the same time. Hayes and Koenig are both big-time players and their continued development will go a long way toward determining the Badgers' ceiling for this year.
Jackson came to Wisconsin's rescue late, hitting big shots and scoring eight of his career-high 16 points in the final minutes.
As much as the offense struggled, the Badgers' defense was much improved. Wisconsin held Saint Louis to 32.8 percent shooting from the field. Frank Kaminsky continued his Jared Berggren impression and registered four blocks in the first half, while also altering countless others at the rim. Kaminsky continues to display excellent footwork in the post that former Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus would love.