Dekker calm, clutch down the stretch

Wisconsin junior forward Sam Dekker was critical to the Badgers' late game execution in its Final Four victory against Kentucky. Back-to-back plays from Dekker with less than two minutes remaining - hitting a three-pointer and drawing a charge - prevented Wisconsin's dreams of playing for a national title from slipping out of reach.

INDIANAPOLIS - It was a three possession stretch with 7:32 remaining in the game that looked like could be the beginning of the end for Wisconsin.

Frank Kaminsky missed the front end of a one-and-one. On the following possession, and on a night when the Wildcats couldn't buy an offensive rebound, Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns grabbed ones back-to-back. And to complete the trifecta, Wisconsin sophomore forward Nigel Hayes proceeded to air ball a three-pointer.

The Wildcats led 60-56 with less than six minutes remaining.

That's when Wisconsin junior forward Sam Dekker proved to be more savvy, more experienced and more reliable than any of Kentucky's future lottery picks.

"We were not sitting in an envious position, nice way of putting it," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan after the Badgers 71-64 victory over Kentucky in the national semifinals. "But we let it out a little bit in the timeout. Okay, now, conversation's over, now we go out on the court and get it done with our actions."

After Dekker's made three-pointer with 1:44 remaining, Wisconsin led 63-60 and the Badgers never looked back.

"We called something," Dekker said. "I don't remember what we called, but we called something to get Frank to get a ball screen for myself. Usually that's something that has been working for us as of late. Karl-Anthony got on his heels a little bit. He thought I was going to drive, and I was able to free up some space on a setback. When it went off my hand, I knew it was down. I was waiting for a good look like that all night. They did a great job blocking off in the driving lanes. When I had that look, I knew I had to put it up. I knew it was good off the hand."

"The fact that it went in didn't surprise anybody on our bench," Ryan added.

Though the three-pointer didn't surprise anyone, the charge Dekker drew on Kentucky's offensive following possession certainly did.

"This might be his first (charge)," Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said. "We'll have to dig really, really deep. If it's not his first, it's probably just his second."

"He took a charge, that might have been his first charge ever," point guard Bronson Koenig added. "I thought that was a really big momentum swing. I just told him to stay aggressive, and that's what he did."

In the first half, Dekker scored seven points on 3 of 5 shooting from the field, but failed to take a shot in the final 9:16 of the first half.

Hayes said the team didn't focus on Dekker's drought and neither did Dekker.

"We're not worrying too much," Hayes said. "I know Sam doesn't worry about that. He's not going up and down the court saying, 'I need to score, I need the ball.' The way the game goes, he wasn't getting the best looks. Sam can definitely take the ball and force a shot. That's not the type of team we are. We don't force up shots to get points. Sam just let the game come to him. He may be a part of the 'Clutch Brothers' group now with the way he's been playing these last two games. He just knows when to step up at the right moment."

After posting career highs in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight with 23 and 27 points vs. North Carolina and Arizona, respectively, Dekker is playing his best basketball at the right time. According to Gard, shot selection is key when it comes to Dekker's success.

"He knows he's got to take what's available," Gard said. He's starting to grow in terms of understanding not to take bad shots. He let one fly in the second half that almost banked in and it was a little too quick and it was well-guarded. I understand what he was trying to get going - his little flurry he had last week against Arizona, he was trying to kick start that. But he makes shots when he takes good shots. When he's open, when his feet are set and when the ball is kicked to him, he can make those plays off the dribble a little bit, but his strength is still having his feet set and getting a clean look at the rim, and he was able to do that in the one he hit late. That one was much more wide open."

Dekker finished the game with 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field and 2 of 3 from behind the arc. He committed zero turnovers in 34 minutes of play.

When asked if his personal performance down the stretch surprised himself, Dekker assumed the plural.

"We know the type of team we have," Dekker said. "We know the type of coaching staff we have. We know that whatever is going on in the game, we're not going to change. I think you guys have seen that all year. Whether we're down six or up 20, we're going to be us and we're going to play our game. I think that's the way you need to go about things in life, especially on the basketball court. We got down today a little bit, but we didn't change our expression, we didn't change what we did, we didn't freak out. We knew if we played our game, we'd get back into it, come back, crawl back. We're not surprised we were in this situation. This is something we've been talking about since day one this season. Look where we are now."

Where they are is a place they haven't been in seven decades - 40 minutes away from being national champions.


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