Unbeaten Badgers host Eastern Kentucky

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday, December 14, 2013

MADISON--Sophomore Sam Dekker, whose skill on the basketball court is matched by his eccentricity, sounded like a grizzled coach rather than a player with only 14 college starts after Wisconsin tied a program record by improving to 11-0.

“It's a great thing; obviously you don't want to be 0-11,” he said after UW's 26-point victory over UW-Milwaukee on Wednesday night. “You're trying to win every game, and when you have a chance to do that, it feels good. It feels rewarding.

“But we have a lot of work to do and we have some stuff to shore up that we struggled with tonight. We can't let those struggles keep reoccurring because come Big Ten time those will really stick out worse.”

UW could be short-handed when it plays its next-to-last nonconference game at noon today against visiting Eastern Kentucky (7-3), a veteran team that had double-digit leads in the second half at North Carolina State and VCU before losing both games.

Forward Frank Kaminsky (right foot) was limited in practice Friday, and his status will be determined today. Reserve forward Zach Bohannon suffered a sprained right knee Friday and is out.

The No. 1 issue against UWM was that the Badgers were sloppy early, on both ends of the court. In short, it appeared as if they weren't prepared to play.

Dekker opened by missing a jumper and UW then turned the ball over on its next three possessions. Traevon Jackson had two turnovers and Dekker had one. A missed 3-pointer by Jackson left UW with no points on its first five possessions.

Fortunately for UW, the Panthers missed their first four shots and turned the ball over twice.

UW's deficit was only 2-0 after Matt Tiby hit two free throws with 17 minutes 19 seconds left in the first half.

“I just think that we have to have a constant flow offensively and defensively,” Dekker said. “Our first four minutes were something that we shouldn't have had.

“We came out flat, didn't take the good shots, had a couple turnovers. Defensively we were letting them get some good looks that we shouldn't have allowed.

“We've gotten into a couple of those funks early this year. Granted they aren't real long ones (and) we snap out of them. We're trying to limit that as much as possible because we're going to be playing much better teams down the road here and we're not going to be able to luck out with some of the plays that have been happening.

“When we play a team like Ohio State and we get in one of those funks and they go on a 10-0, 12-0 run.

“It's really hard to snap back from that stuff.”

UW recovered against a UWM team that didn't play well by hitting three-pointers, taking care of the ball and turning turnovers into points.

The Badgers hit 9 of 13 three-pointers in the first half; had 16 assists and only five turnovers over the final 36 minutes 28 seconds and turned 19 UWM turnovers in 28 points.

“We just have to be able to have a constant 40 minutes of hard work and staying sharp and staying focused,” Dekker said. “The more we stay focused, the better 40 minutes we'll have.”

Perhaps the most positive development for UW is that it defense appears to be tightening.

Through the first six games this season, opponents shot 44.4% or better four times. North Dakota shot 54.5% and Oral Roberts shot 55.1%.

In the last five games, no opponent has hit the 43% mark. West Virginia and UWM tied for top honor at 42.6%.

“We have a lot of different pieces on this team from freshmen to sophomores to juniors to a couple seniors,” said guard Ben Brust, the lone senior in the top eight players of Bo Ryan's rotation. “With that there's been some experience, but not as much as we've had in the past.

“So that means every day in practice we have to be out there working, ready to learn from each other, learn how to play off of each other because that's something you gradually get over time. We just have to keep learning and getting better in practice every day.”

Ryan, sounding like a grizzled coach, sensed a questioner was a bit too impressed by UW's overall performance against UWM.

“There's a lot of things defensively and offensively if you think that came so well together,” he said, “I can find quite a few things that we didn't do well. Trust me.”

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