This is the Sam Dekker that the rest of the conference did not want to see this weekend. It’s the one 67 other teams would probably prefer to not have to deal with in the NCAA tournament next weekend -- and perhaps beyond.
Dekker, who had been held without a double-figure scoring outing for the last three games -- three of only five such performances for the sophomore this year -- made his presence felt early and Wisconsin proceeded to blow out seventh-seeded Minnesota 83-57 in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal Friday evening. The league’s second seed, UW will face the winner of tonight’s matchup between No. 4 Michigan State and No. 11 Northwestern, which topped Iowa in the opening round Thursday night.
Dekker did not have the flashiest numbers -- 10 points (5-of-9 field goals), four rebounds, two blocks and an assist -- but the difference in his aggressiveness was palpable from the opening minutes. On the Sheboygan, Wis., native’s first four chances, he beat his defender baseline for a layup, used one dribble to create space and hit a pull-up jumper, and found senior guard Ben Brust for two open three-point attempts by driving, drawing a second defender, and kicking out. The early energy helped the Badgers build a 21-9 lead and take an early control that they never relinquished.
While the difference from Dekker was striking, he certainly wasn’t the entire story for UW.
Brust finished with a career-high 29 points (8-of-15 FG, 4-of-10 3-pt., 9-of-9 FT). Bronson Koenig hit all four of his three-point attempts en route to 14 points. Nigel Hayes took over after halftime, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half on 6-of-9 shooting overall.
At one point in the first half, after the Badgers had built a double-digit lead, the Gophers reeled off nine straight points to get within three, but UW responded by extending the lead back to 34-22 before the break. After holding Minnesota at arms length in the opening minutes of the second half, Wisconsin methodically pushed the lead through the teens. The final spread, 26 points, was UW’s largest.
In the two previous meetings, keeping Minnesota away from the rim gave the Badgers fits. This time around, UW controlled the glass and played much better defense on the backside of ball screens against the Gopher guards. Redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser held the Gophers leading scorer, guard Andre Hollins, to eight points on 2-of-14 shooting, including a scoreless first half in which the junior went 0-of-7 from the floor. Hollins entered play averaging 13.3 points per game.
Overall, Wisconsin kept Minnesota to just 19-of-58 (32.8 percent) and finished with a defensive rebounding percentage of 84.6 (33 defensive rebounds compared to 39 Minnesota misses). Redshirt junior center Frank Kaminsky was quiet on the offensive end (six points) but finished with 12 rebounds, including 11 defensive.
Meanwhile, the Badgers offense hummed most of the night. UW shot a blistering 54.5 percent (30-of-55) from the field and 41.7 percent (10-of-24) from three-point range. The 83 points is the most UW has scored since pouring in 95 against Illinois Jan. 8.
The impressive performance came despite the Badgers getting zero points from both Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser and just six from Kaminsky.
Koenig played maybe his best game of the year over the course of 23 minutes on the floor, tacking on three assists to his perfect shooting night. The La Crosse, Wis., native regularly created problems for the Minnesota defense by consistently getting to the lane and looking to pass.
Hayes scored on his first touch of the night early in the first half, but then was quiet until the 14:17 mark of the second half. He proceeded to score 13 points in the next 10 minutes of game time.
Tally that up, and the Badgers two freshmen rotation players scored 29 points (11-of-14 FG), nine rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in 46 combined minutes.
Wisconsin’s Saturday game will be the second of the semis at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Top-seeded Michigan and No. 5 Ohio State tip at 12:40 p.m. central time and the Badgers follow against either Michigan State or Northwestern 25 minutes after the conclusion, likely shortly after 3 p.m.