Standing less than six feet tall, Green Bay point guard Keifer Sykes took Traevon Jackson off the dribble in the game's first few seconds Saturday night, finishing in the lane with an emphatic slam dunk. The message was clear: Green Bay was not intimidated.
Sykes was not finished either. He continued to back up the message with eight quick points in the game's first three minutes, and again sparked Green Bay to a 10-1 run to open the second half. In all, the 5'11" Sykes jitterbugged his way to a career-high 32 points.
But it wasn't quite enough to overcome a balanced Wisconsin attack. Steadied by Frank Kaminsky's superb second-half performance, the No. 20 Badgers kept their cool during the frenetic final 20 minutes to come away with a 69-66 victory at Green Bay's Resch Center.
With the win, Wisconsin improved to 3-0 on the young season, while evening up Green Bay's record at 1-1.
It appeared as though the Badgers might get caught up in the home team's fast-paced tempo early on, firing off errant three-pointers early and often. However, UW chipped away at the Green Bay lead with some nifty plays around the basket by several players which enabled the Badgers to take a 34-29 lead into the break.
The speedy Sykes and his teammates would soon bring the crowd to life again. Behind a bit of showtime offense -- including a one-handed flush by Sykes off a Vincent Garrett alley-oop -- the Phoenix surged to a 50-43 lead midway through the second half. The remainder of the game would carry the intensity of a back-and-forth conference rivalry, something increasingly common between the state schools of late.
On Wisconsin's end, Kaminsky immediately went to work upon returning to action around the 13-minute mark, putting an end to a fairly sloppy stretch of basketball by the Badgers. The junior forward scored 11 of UW's next 17 points to help Wisconsin retake the lead for good.
In all, Kaminsky posted 16 points and eight rebounds, after only scoring two points in the first half. He also sprinkled in key defensive plays, including two steals and four blocked shots -- none more important than the final one.
With Wisconsin nursing a one-point lead with 10 seconds remaining, Jackson hit one of two free throws to extend the lead to 68-66. Sykes came the other way quickly for a game-tying layup attempt, but Kaminsky timed it well and swatted it. Kaminsky grabbed the loose ball, hit a free throw, and then watched with his teammates as Sykes' last-ditch 3-point attempt bounced off the front iron.
Even though Kaminsky and Sykes were the heroes on each side, the well-rounded effort by the Badgers was the star of the show. Players of all roles got into the act.
Bronson Koenig, filling in off the bench for unavailable George Marshall, proved he belonged with a strong first half. The Badger freshman played 13 of his 23 minutes before halftime, scoring five of his seven points and showing off a confident stroke. Sam Dekker added eight of his 13 points in the first half as well.
Josh Gasser icily sank all six of his free throws despite an otherwise lackluster group performance from the charity stripe (12-for-18) by the Badgers
Meanwhile, Green Bay big man Alec Brown continued to struggle against Wisconsin, giving Sykes little support. Brown fouled out with only two points on five shot attempts.
Sophomore Jordan Fouse gathered 12 rebounds in a losing effort. Green Bay out-rebounded Wisconsin 22-13 in the second half and 40-35 overall. The Phoenix also blocked eight shots in the second half, proving the team will indeed be a player in the Horizon League race this year.
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