A slow start hurt Wisconsin and caused the Badgers to trail Michigan for 12 minutes and 45 seconds of the first half. But even with Wisconsin trailing by as many as nine points, the offense always felt in control of the game, consistently finding ways of scoring around the basket or spreading the basketball around (13 assists) to get the best shot available.
Down 22-13, Wisconsin closed the first half on an 18-4 run by attacking the paint and getting a couple 3-point shots from Bronson Koenig. Wisconsin did allow Michigan to take a brief three point lead in the second, but the Badgers never forced any shots and continue to settle for what was given to them on offense.
Overall Wisconsin shot 25-for-51 (49 percent) from the field and had four players score in double figures. Sam Dekker led Wisconsin with 17 points, Frank Kaminsky had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field, Koenig had 12 points and Nigel Hayes had 11 points. Josh Gasser was the lone starter to be held to single digits, but he had seven points in 33 minutes of work.
Wisconsin receiving tremendous balance among its starting lineup and even got a nice lift from Duje Dukan (eight points) off the bench, the most points for Dukan since scoring 10 vs. Nebraska Jan.15. In particular Wisconsin found success in the paint by scoring 36 of its 71 points around the basket. With Michigan being undersized in the frontcourt, it was clear that Wisconsin wanted to get the basketball down low to try and possibly draw a foul.
“Get the ball down low and get them to foul us, we got ourselves in the one-and-one, which benefitted us as they were trying to make a comeback,” said Hayes. “They knew they couldn’t pressure us that much in fear that they would give us two free throws.”
Overall Wisconsin forced Michigan into 13 team fouls and capitalized by going 14-for-16 from the charity stripe. Gasser, Koenig, and Kaminsky all attempted a team high four free throws.
Koenig, who has taken care of the basketball all season, once again made sure that Michigan didn’t disrupt his play on the floor. Finishing turnover free for the fifth time since the Rutgers game, Koenig’s solid ball security in 39 minutes helped Wisconsin finish the game with only seven turnovers.
Wisconsin did a lot of good things on defense, especially holding Aubrey Dawkins – averaging 23.3 points over his last three games - to just five points on 2-for-7 shooting from the field. The combination between Gasser and Koenig made sure that his first field goal didn’t come until the 12:52 mark in the second half.
“He’s a great player, he’s really athletic, he can shoot the heck out of the ball so I thought we did a really good job of containing him,” Koenig said of defending Dawkins. “We just try and run him off the line, chase him, and not give him anything easy.”
But at the same time, Wisconsin couldn’t put together enough series of stops to put the game away until late. Consistently allowing open looks on defense hurt the Badgers from building on top of their five point lead at halftime, as the Badgers allowed Michigan to shoot 16-for-27 (59.3 percent) in the second half.
Although Wisconsin did a good job of keeping Michigan off the 3-point line (finished the game 6-for-15), they did allow Michigan to have too much success around the paint with 32 points around the basket.
“We knew guys like Spike (Albrecht), Dawkins, and Zak Irvin like to shoot a lot of three’s, and that is what their strength is, so we try and take them off the line as much as we could but they made some tough ones,” said Gasser. “They're good players, so they knocked a few down. Overall we didn’t want to foul them (or) allow any open three’s, so I think that was a big part of the game.”
Even though Michigan did find success of getting the basketball down low or get enough space to hit mid-range shots from the free throw line, the Badgers committed a season-low five personal fouls. That resulted in Michigan only attempting two free throws, which came with 21 seconds remaining.
Outside of keeping Dawkins in check, the Badgers’ defense did a much better job in the second half on Albrecht. After scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting in the first half, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range, Albrecht was locked down in the final 20 minutes and went 0-for-3 from the floor.
“I don’t think he went cold, I think he just stopped looking to shoot as much,” Koenig said of Albrecht. “Even in the first half my hand was in his eye and he was draining them, so like I said I don’t think he looked to shoot as much in the second half.”
The length of Wisconsin did its job on the glass, limiting Michigan to only four offensive rebounds and three second-chance points.
The only thing the Badgers struggled with was guarding Irvin, who finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting (3-for-7 from 3-point range) and had 11 of the team’s 19 rebounds.
It was a closer game than what Wisconsin may have liked, but the Badgers were able to find a way. Although Kaminsky had his 11th double-double on the year, it wasn’t his best game of the season, missing a couple shots in the paint and had two costly turnovers on consecutive possessions that led to four points for Michigan, which turned a one-point lead into a three-point deficit.
“It was obviously frustrating stretch when they took the lead back,” Kaminsky said. “I just had to recuperate mentally and get back on the court and bring some energy.”
With the turnovers costing Wisconsin the lead for a brief moment, it was Dukan who was able to step in and make up for the two poor plays by Kaminsky on offense, hitting a 3-pointer to the tie game at 44 and hit another 3-pointer two possessions later to break a 46-46 tie.
“In the second half coach always preaches for the guys coming off the bench to bring energy and contribute in any way possible,” said Dukan. “The opportunity presented itself where I got a wide open three to start it off, and I hit that and it kind of carried my confidence throughout. I just played my game to try and help as much as I could to get this win.”
Kaminsky started to deliver when he was reinserted into the lineup, including his best play of the day came when he secured an offensive rebound and fed the ball to Dekker for a 3-pointer with 3:42 remaining, giving UW a five point lead.
“He's just an all-around player,” UW coach Bo Ryan said of Kaminsky. “He's a gamer. He understands every little thing in a game ends up being something on this sheet or leads to something on this sheet. You never have to explain too much to him. He just had a couple rough spots there. Once he collected himself, he was ready to go. Some guys pout. He didn't pout. He went back out there and played.”
Although Michigan kept hanging around, the Badgers shot 50 percent from the field in the second half (13-for-16).
Michigan’s lack of size didn’t give them much of a chance on the boards, as Wisconsin won the rebounding battle, 34-19, and turned 12 offensive rebounds into 17 points.
Game MVP: Sam Dekker. Efficient in both halves for Wisconsin, Dekker finished with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and excelled in more areas than just scoring. The junior was third on the team with six rebounds, registered a season-high six assists, recorded three of Wisconsin’s four steals, and had the only block of the game for Wisconsin. Simply put, he impacted the game in multiple areas and helped carry the offense when Kaminsky had a down game by his standards.
When Wisconsin was down by nine points in the first half, Dekker went on a mini run by scoring six points in a row. Dekker’s aggressive style paid off for Wisconsin by keeping the Badgers’ offense moving in a positive direction.