Wednesday's championship game of the Cancun Challenge was successful for Wisconsin on two fronts. On one hand, the Badgers held on to beat another scrappy, talented team in Mexico and add to their resume. And secondly, Wisconsin might have gotten its alpha dog going again.
The 70-63 win over West Virginia was definitely a slump busting game for Sam Dekker. From the onset he played with a determination that had not been seen the past few games. Realizing his outside shot wasn't falling, Dekker attacked the rim and was active on the boards finishing with career highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds. He also buried several clutch three-pointers in the second half to help hold off a building Mountaineer rally.
Those type of shots are where the Badgers need Dekker the most. Scoring has not been an issue thus far for the Badgers, as evident with five players averaging double figures, What they need (and have lacked in recent years) is someone that is willing and able to take pressure shots in key moments of the game.
Wisconsin used a 20-2 run midway through the first half, fueled by eight points apiece by Josh Gasser and Ben Brust, to open up a lead it would never relinquish. Brust finished with 16 points, while Gasser had 11.
Traevon Jackson added another complete game with six points, 10 boards and six assists. Through eight games this year it is pretty obvious the offense runs much smoother with Jackson on the court.
The Badgers struggled defending West Virginia's quick guards throughout the game, however. Juwan Staten and Eron Harris (a one time Badger recruit) gave Wisconsin fits and finished with 18 and 27 points respectively. Staten was able to drive seemingly at will through the Badgers defense in the first half. A player with Staten's ball handling and quickness really benefits from the new hand checking rules and it showed tonight. Badger defenders did not have the foot speed to stay in front of him and were reluctant to generate any contact after a few early foul calls.
Harris, meanwhile, was 7-of-11 from the three-point line and hit numerous tough shots with defenders right in his face.
West Virginia used a furious trapping defense late, causing the Badger offense to loose all sense of rhythm. That defensive wrinkle along with a 52 percent effort from the three-point line kept the Mountaineers in the game right until the final buzzer.
The difference ended up being free-throw shooting. A day after shooting 57 percent from the charity stripe, the Badgers finished 15-of-17 from the line while West Virginia made only 6-of-14.
Wisconsin overcame the fatigue of playing six games in 12 days along with the allure of tropical Mexico to win the 2013 Cancun Challenge. Wisconsin now has neutral court wins against St. John's, St. Louis and West Virginia. Combined with a home win against Florida and a road win against UW-Green Bay, the Badgers have five quality wins against likely NCAA tournament teams and the calendar has not yet rolled to December. There is no doubt this will be fun season to be a Badger basketball fan.
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