Dekker Looking for Better Freebies

Forward Sam Dekker has elevating his scoring and his rebounding in his sophomore season for Wisconsin - now ranked third in the AP poll. The next step for him is to get his confidence back at the free throw line.

MADISON - Recognizing that at times he was too perimeter oriented last season, sophomore Sam Dekker spent the offseason developing his post play and building strength in the weight room.

That focus has resulted in Dekker boosting his points per game average by 4.7 points and his rebounds by three, production that has the forward leading the team with 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Dekker is hoping to take that same quick-turnaround approach when it comes to his free throw shooting, one of the few things the Badgers' budding superstar isn't struggling with.

Entering Tuesday's game at Indiana, Dekker is shooting 59.7 percent (40-for-67) from the free throw line and 50 percent (8-for-16) in conference play, both worst among the team's five starters. He admits he's not too concerned about it, but it does bother him, as evident by the deep sigh he took before trying to diagnosis the problem.

"I don't know what it is," said Dekker, who has missed four free throws in each of the last two games. "I think right now I am thinking about it a little too much when I go to the line, thinking about how I am going to shoot them and that they have to go in. I can't get into a mental battle with myself when I am going to the line."

Free throw shooting hadn't been a problem for Dekker before arriving at Wisconsin. An All-American at Sheboygan Lutheran, Dekker shot 71.9 percent from the free throw line as a senior, a mark that helped him average a state-best 35.2 points per game and lead his team to a state title.

Since coming to Wisconsin, Dekker is shooting 64.5 percent, including 69.0 percent (49 of 71) from the line last season as a freshman.

"That's nowhere near where I want to be," said Dekker. "I should be in the upper 80s or 90s. I am too good of a shooter to not be hitting them and converting them."

Getting off to a slow start from the free throw line is not new for Dekker. After shooting 58.1 percent (18 of 31) in 13 nonconference games to start last season, he shot 77.6 percent (31 of 40) over the final 22 games of the season.

Dekker believes the problem comes from rushing too much when he gets to the line, a rhythm he has worked on developing in the days since the Badgers' 95-70 victory over Illinois last Wednesday. Dekker went through that routine during Sunday's open practice and routinely found the bottom of the net.

He believes that's the key and not overhauling his approach, like using former teammate Ryan Evans' jump shot, as some of his peers have suggested.

"People have said that to me and I am not a bad shooter. I am not a bad free throw shooter. It's just something that's been going on a little bit here and something I have to get through. It's nothing to panic about for me. It just takes practice, a little bit of confidence, just get those steps down every time and get better every day."

Free throws were an unwelcomed topic of conversation last season at Wisconsin. Wisconsin shot 63.4 percent from the line — a low during the Ryan era. Evans was a big reason for that, making just 42.6 percent of his team-leading 148 attempts, but a number of players missed critical freebies at crucial junctures.

That hasn't been the case this season, as Wisconsin is shooting 73.1 percent from the line – fourth in the Big Ten – and is being paced by Ben Brust (94.1 percent), Josh Gasser (86.7) and Frank Kaminsky (74.5). Wisconsin is averaging over six more attempts than a year ago and is shooting 82.1 percent (46-of-56) at the line in the final minute of games.

"When teams end up fouling at the end of games, we've been hitting them, which is a good thing," said Dekker. "It's exciting to see guys step up and hit them, especially when they matter the most in the last 10 minutes of the game. We have the confidence to step up to the line, knock them down and win possessions that way. When the time comes, I've got to step up and knock them down."


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