Wisconsin opened the 2013-2014 season with a solid victory over a very talented St. John's' team. The Badgers nearly blew an 18-point lead, but managed to hold off Red Storm with some clutch 3-point shooting from Sam Dekker and Ben Brust.
There were some tense moments in the second half but the Badgers never trailed and for the most part controlled the game from beginning to end. Five Badger players scored in double digits and tallied 86 points, including 51! points in the second half (UW didn't reach 51 points in two entire games last year).
Josh Gasser was the leading scorer with 19 points and also added some tough rebounding. With the lack of big men on this year's team, seeing Gasser grab eight boards was extremely encouraging. I had forgotten how hard he crashes the boards. Gasser didn't show much rust in his first game back and shot confidently from behind the arc on 3-of-5 shooting.
The other surprise was Duje Dukan, who scored 15 points off the bench and added some big baskets to energize the offense in the second half. Dukan flashed an improved offensive game during the team's preseason exhibition tour in Canada and showed it was no fluke against a talented St. John's squad.
The balanced scoring and increased pace is good sign on the season. Everyone in the top eight of the rotation are capable and confident on offense. The Badgers shot 47 percent from the floor including 47.8 percent from the 3 point line on 11-of-23 shooting. Sadly they did not have anyone attempt a jump shot free throws but finished 25-of-30 from the line nonetheless.
There is plenty to work on though. Dekker had trouble finishing at the rim on several nice drives and Traevon Jackson was a little to sloppy handling the ball early on. St. John's is filled with athletes and the Badgers gave up a quite a few uncharacteristic open lanes to the basket for D'Angelo Harrison (27 points) and Jakarr Sampson (21 points).
What we learned: Dekker continued his assertiveness on offense and lead the team with 13 shots attempted. As noted earlier he had several nice penetrating drives but just couldn't get the ball to drop in the hoop. Most nights those shots will go in. Gasser's toughness and rebounding will be much needed. The Badgers ended up with 29 rebounds, as many as St. John's, but there were stretches in the second half where St. John's was seemingly securing every missed shot. Despite the areas for improvement, make no mistake this was a tough, gritty win for a relatively young and inexperienced Badger squad. St. John's will be a contender in the Big East and has the talent to be a NCAA tournament team. Handling a team as athletic and experienced as St. John's will go a long way toward building confidence for the Badgers that will face No. 10 Florida at the Kohl Center in four short days.