It really is a shame that Wisconsin let Tom Crean finally win a game against the Badgers with his Indiana team. Thirteen out of 14 is not bad, but 14 in a row sounds much better. Oh well. On Tuesday night, all seemed to be right with the Badger basketball universe once again.
Ben Brust is the key to a tournament run
As I drove downtown yesterday, one of the local radio shows was discussing which Badger was the biggest key to a deep March run by Wisconsin. Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes dominated the early discussion, with some votes for Dekker and even Josh Gasser. While listening, I never heard a single vote for either member of the starting backcourt.
Though I believe Traevon Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink, my vote was for Ben Brust. The Indiana game exemplified why Brust is the key to Wisconsin's success come March. His recent cold spell extended into the first half against the Hoosiers, misfiring on four open three-pointers and all five shots overall. But Brust is fearless, especially when it comes to his shooting. And after the break, Brust took matters into his own hands, hitting his first three shots (all threes) within a three-minute span to give the Badgers a 41-38 lead they would never surrender. You could tell by the way Brust was hunting his shot and pulling up unexpectedly that he was determined to put an end to his unfortunately slump at that very moment. His shots ignited the crowd and with Brust hot, most teams -- let alone Indiana -- don't stand a chance.
Look no further than UW's 2000 run to the Final Four to see the effect a hot shooter can have in the tournament. Jon Bryant nailed 18 three-pointers in four games for the Badgers en route to being named the West Regional's Most Valuable Player that year. (Just don't ask Brust -- or anyone else -- about Bryant.)
Brust has that unconscious shooter's mentality that sometimes drives me crazy, but it's essential to a sweet victory lap next month for this senior and his teammates.
Frank and Dekker manned up
On a night when Nigel Hayes was not very effective, his older teammates did more than enough to pick up the slack and maintain Wisconsin's advantage in the front court. Offensively, the duo combined for 26 points, but the defensive end was even more important. Kaminksy (two) and Dekker (three) were credited with five blocks between them, which is significant for a duo known more for their offense.
Kaminsky, in particular, went toe-to-toe with Noah Vonleh in the paint during crunch time and stonewalled him. After a nice first half and quick start to the second half, Vonleh failed to score in the final nine minutes when Indiana really needed it. Kaminsky finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Dekker was close to a double-double as well. In fact, one of the most frustrating themes of the evening was seeing two or three rebounds basically slip out of Dekker's hands out of bounds. He could have easily wound up with his sixth double-double if he had held on to those. Still, a few missed opportunities cannot take away from the excellent game the Dekker played. The sophomore showed off a little bit of everything after halftime, and most importantly, he got to the free throw line instead of settling for three-pointers. Once there, Dekker went 5-for-5 on freebies, pacing a remarkably accurate night (22-of-24) for Wisconsin from the free throw line.
Indiana is a horrible, two-man team
Not a shocking statement, I know. Yogi Ferrell is a very good player, no doubt. Almost always the quickest guy on the court and a much-improved shooter. Then you have Noah Vonleh, a true beast of a young player. He's got quickness, touch around the basket, a smooth-looking three-point stroke and great rebounding instincts. But where are the other Hoosiers?
Watching Indiana's offense in the second half was painful. Once it was clear that Vonleh was not having success inside against Kaminsky, I expected the Hoosiers to at least pretend to go to a different option. Yet there was none ... besides letting Ferrell run amok and start jacking up shots, of course. I don't care who left early, at this point the famed Indiana Hoosiers should not be so dependent on two players. Will Sheehey started the game hot then disappeared and it's obvious he's nothing more than an inconsistent third or fourth wheel. (Tangent: Sheehey and Dekker will always be linked in my mind after their 6th Man of the Year race last season, but actually the two have some jarring similarities in that their biggest plays have been kickout treys or slicing dunks set up by teammates. I'm glad Dekker is growing more active on the glass).
Honestly, I'm shocked Crean did not play Stanford Robinson more. He gave UW trouble the first time around with his ability to get to the basket, and played well again on Tuesday night. Oh well, probably just Crean micromanaging again. Thanks oh Tan One!
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