MILWAUKEE (AP) — Frank Kaminsky last year; Sam Dekker in 2015.
Wisconsin’s frontcourt players are turning into stars with stirring performances in the NCAA Tournament.
“Yeah, by far,” senior guard Traevon Jackson said when asked whether Dekker’s 27-point performance in the 85-78 victory over Arizona on Saturday was the best of his teammate’s career. “Some other games come to mind but this game solidifies his legacy for Wisconsin basketball.”
If the Badgers can beat undefeated Kentucky on Saturday in the Final Four, it could really add to Dekker’s legacy.
The junior is already a known commodity in the Big Ten, a 6-foot-9 bundle of energy averaging 13.3 points a game going into the West Regional semifinals on Thursday against North Carolina.
That’s when the rest of the college basketball world learned about Dekker’s potential.
He set a career high with 23 points in the 79-72 victory over the Tar Heels. He set another career high in the win over the Wildcats that clinched a trip to Indianapolis for the top-seeded Badgers after shooting 8 of 11 from the field and 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
“I have the ability to use my athleticism. Sometimes I don’t use it the way I should, and when I’m in tune with that and doing it and using it to my advantage, it makes the game come a lot more smoothly and naturally,” Dekker said. “It also helps to have this guy next to me get a lot of attention.”
The Badgers aren’t just about “Frank the Tank.” Kaminsky, a contender for national player of the year honors, scored 29 against Arizona.
There is something, though, about playing NCAA Tournament games in southern California that seems to bring out the best in the Badgers big men.
A year ago, Wisconsin beat Arizona in the regional final in Anaheim. Kaminsky had 28 points and 11 rebounds in the 64-63 win in overtime, a clutch performance that set the stage for the 7-footer to become one of the most well-known names in the game this year.
Dekker is following the same trail in helping to lead the Badgers to a second consecutive Final Four.
There is history with Dekker coming up in big spots going back to his days at Sheboygan Lutheran High School. He scored 40 points in a state title game played on the Badgers’ home court at the Kohl Center, including a game-winning 3 with 2 seconds left.
Dekker hit that shot on the right wing from around the same spot on the court in the Staples Center from which Dekker hit a back-breaking, high-arcing 3 with 17 seconds left to give Wisconsin an eight-point lead.
Even Dekker’s form looked somewhat similar in each clutch situation with the way he extended high in the air and let the shot go over the outstretched arm of a defender. Each time, Dekker then balances himself on one leg for a second while waiting for the shot to fall.
Until this past weekend, the wide-eyed forward with the friendly, boy-next-door demeanor might have been known more to Badgers fans for his athletic potential and coach Bo Ryan’s quick hooks from the court following careless fouls or turnovers.
Dekker showed how potent he can be when he uses his athleticism more to Ryan’s liking.
“Oh, I’ve been known to prod as a coach. You have to. Make points of emphasis. Maybe not the way I’m talking right now, but, yeah, Sam needs that at times,” Ryan said. “He’s not the only one. His heart is in the right place and his mind is. It’s like all of us — we need a push now and then.”
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