Badgers Calm the Storm

Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan watched from the bench a season ago as Wisconsin struggled to find consistency from the 3-point and free throw line. In the 2013-14 season opener, both players made those two areas a strength, leading the 20th-ranked Badgers to an 86-75 win over St. John's at the Sanford Pentagon.

Every year Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan is asked where the production is going to come from, who is going to replace the lost scoring and who is going to step up into a leadership role for his basketball team.

Ryan's answer, at least for one night, is a couple of players who sat and watched a season ago.

Junior Josh Gasser, playing his first game since the 2012 Sweet 16, scored a team-high 19 points in 35 minutes while junior Duje Dukan added 15 points to propel No.20 Wisconsin to season-opening 86-75 victory over St. John's in the inaugural college basketball game at the Sanford Pentagon.

Sophomore Sam Dekker scored 16, senior Ben Brust had 15 and junior Traevon Jackson added 13 for the Badgers (1-0), who opened the season against a "power six" school for the first time since 2000 but opened with a victory for the 12th straight season.

"This is a quality opponent, a national opponent; that's why we wanted to do this," said associate head coach Greg Gard. "St. John's is going to be good … This is going to be a big year for them and for us to get this against a quality opponent early, hopefully we can keep stacking these (wins) up and cash this in when we get to March."

Leading by as many as 18 points, St. John's (0-1) scored 52 points in the second half, but never took the lead and only got as close as four based on the Badgers, at least for one night, fixing two problems that plagued them throughout last season.

UW went 23 of 25 from the free throw line in the second half, including converting its final 14, and went 25 of 30 overall to finish 83.3 percent for the game. Wisconsin also made 11 of 23 3-pointers (47.8 percent) compared to only 2 of 7 for the Red Storm.

A year ago, UW shot only 33 percent from the 3-point line and 63.4 percent from the 3-point line, both of which cost the Badgers a number of games.

"We didn't wilt when they got close," said Gard.

Of course, UW didn't have Gasser last season. A career 81.2 percent free throw shooter, Gasser made all eight of his free throw attempts, not to mention leading all players with eight rebounds.

"If you rewind 18 months ago, watching him last year before he got hurt, I would have said, "There's a stat line Josh is going to have,'" said Gard. "Obviously his court savvy and his experience, he was huge tonight in terms of his toughness.

"He guarded guys who were bigger, he was on the glass (and) obviously shot the free throw really well. He just adds such a calming, poise effect to us. He settles everybody down and it gives us another ball handler. We're harder to guard when you have three guys like that, especially if you're a team who wants to press us."

While Wisconsin expected that kind of production from Gasser eventually, the lift Dukan gave off the bench couldn't be ignored, especially on a night where freshman Nigel Hayes was a non-factor because of foul trouble.

Having scored only 10 career points coming into the game, Dukan scored 11 points in the second half alone, including a pair of big 3-pointers on consecutive possession to give Wisconsin an 11-point lead with 4:40 remaining.

"He was really good tonight," said Gard. "He just had a look about him and he was very confident."

Dukan was set to play last season until he contracted mononucleosis, causing him to drop 16 pounds and miss two weeks of school. He tried to play during last year's exhibition season, but felt winded and exhausted after only playing 13 minutes in a game against UW-Oshkosh.

Dukan decided to redshirt and spent the past season putting on the 15 pounds he lost and an additional 15 pounds to get himself physically prepared for a team that would be losing five seniors.

"There's more minutes on the table than last year," Dukan said, previously. "Being where I am right now, I am definitely more confident in my game, what I can bring to this team."

St. John's returned over 90 percent of its scoring and was described as one of the more talented teams the Badgers would face all season. The Red Storm certainly showed it at times, but turned the ball 10 times in the first half – including two off charges drawn by UW – that the Badger turned into 14 points.

D'Angelo Harrison had 27 points for the Red Storm and Jakarr Sampson added 21 points and seven rebounds.

Wisconsin opened the game on a 22-9 run, doing mostly through a perimeter game that carried the team during portion of last season's schedule. Wisconsin started 4-for-6 from 3-point range and built a lead that it never lost.

"This feels great," said Dekker." That was a big win and will be a springboard for us this season."

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