MADISON Amidst all the chaos surrounding the University of Wisconsin this past week, the Badgers basketball team keeps rolling right along.
Shooting as high as 73.9 percent, No.5 Wisconsin hardly broke a sweat in its final game before exam week, easily beating Nicholls, 86-43, Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin (10-1) entered the game as 38-point favorites and nearly covered that spread with a 47-12 lead at halftime, thanks in large part to junior Sam Dekker scoring 13 of his game-high 17 points before the break.
“I like playing aggressive; I like making things happen,” said Dekker. “That’s what our team expects out of me; that’s what the coaches expect out of me; that’s what I expect out of myself.”
The hoops team has almost been the forgotten child this past week. Having not played a home game in 10 days, Wisconsin’s road win at Marquette was overshadowed by the football team’s Big Ten championship game.
The Badgers won at Milwaukee four days later by 39, the biggest road win in program history, but the news of the day with Gary Andersen resigning from his head coaching role at Wisconsin to accept the head job at Oregon State.
For those that decided to finally tune back in, the Badgers treated them to another clinic with 10 different players scoring – including Dekker, Josh Gasser (14), Nigel Hayes (12), Frank Kaminsky (10) and Nigel Hayes (10) all in double figures.
UW shot 51.9 percent, forced 21 turnovers that led to 17 second-chance points and had significant edges in rebounds (41-26), points in the paint (36-26), fast-break points (8-2) and free throws (26-for-35 for UW to 5-for-8 for Nicholls).
“Overall we were pretty balanced, and that’s good to see,” said Dekker. “Get guys in the game, get double-figure minutes for some guys that usually don’t play that much. It was one of those nights that it was fun to get everyone in there.”
It’s the second straight game Wisconsin has shot over 50 percent, a stark change from the 40.7 percent UW shot against Duke and the 32.7 percent against Marquette.
While the shooting problems lingered throughout the roster last week, two of the biggest culprits were Dekker and Hayes, who committed as many turnovers as made field goals (6-for-23).
Those problems appear to be in the past. After the duo combined for 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting against the Panthers, both players got the Badgers off to a fast start Saturday.
Hayes was 3-for-3 for seven points before the first media timeout, while Dekker had four points, two rebounds, an assist and a block, appearing to be nearing 100 percent after his gimpy ankle had been giving him problems.
The duo combined to score 29 points with Dekker going 6-for-10 and Hayes shooting a perfect 5-for-5 with a team-high eight rebounds.
“We fully understood what we were tangling with,” said Nicholls coach J.P. Piper. “It creates matchup nightmares … We talked about making them score over a hand and contested everything, but that really didn’t faze them at all. Once they started wearing us down, it was a nightmare with them putting the ball on the deck and getting to the rim.”
In reality, nobody on the Badgers had very little trouble with Nicholls (1-5), which dropped to 0-5 away from its campus in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Wisconsin opened the game on a 37-6 run on 16-for-21 shooting and held the Colonels to 3-for-19 during that stretch and 18-for-52 (34.6 percent) for the game.
The Badgers finished the first half with 11 assists on 19 field goals, ball movement that helped the Badgers shoot 70.4 percent in the opening half.
“(The players) stayed to the task in the first 20,” said UW Coach Bo Ryan, who won his 200th game against 22 losses in his UW tenure Saturday. “…Very few bad shots, moving the ball, getting the ball where we wanted it.”
About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Badgers was senior Duje Dukan stumbling on his way in for an uncontested layup midway through the second half, a play that looked so awkward that Dukan’s teammates could be seen trying to stifle their laughter.
“I don’t even know what happened but it was hilarious,” said Dekker, again cracking up. “He actually went downward. He didn’t get off the ground. It was incredible to see…He just went nowhere.”
“We’re all right,” said Gasser. “We’re 10-1; that one obviously stands out more than the 10. That’s just the way it goes…We’re pretty happy with where we are but the real season is about to come up, so we’ve got to put everything behind us, learn from what we’ve done, take the good, learn from the bad and really focus up on what’s to come.”