Wisconsin frontcourt withstands Kentucky platoon
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Eyes wide open and running the court with pent-up energy, Sam Dekker gave Wisconsin a spark.
A jumper with 4:26 left to get the Badgers within two. A 3 with 1:26 left to put his team up for good, 63-60, before drawing a charging call on Kentucky's Trey Lyles on the next possession.
The Badgers decked the Wildcats 71-64 on Saturday night to advance to the national title game with the help of another clutch performance by Dekker.
''Any stop we get, we're hopefully going be able to get a bucket on the other end and we were fortunate to take the lead back,'' Dekker said.
He's more than just a running mate to star big man Frank Kaminsky.
Frank the Tank did lead the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
But Dekker finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He was an active presence again on both ends of the court, gliding through Kentucky's towering frontcourt to make big plays.
The junior has turned into a star on the NCAA's brightest stage. He led the Badgers out of the West Regional with consecutive career highs in points.
Joined by Nigel Hayes up front, Wisconsin won a heavyweight fight of a semifinal game to get to its first NCAA Tournament final since 1941. They won that year.
Next up is the national championship game on Monday night against Duke and freshman phenom center Jahlil Okafor.
But first, a day of well-earned rest on Easter Sunday for Wisconsin and for the experienced frontcourt which took care of the bulk of the scoring.
No chance this time for last-second heroics for Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, who nailed a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left in a 74-73 win in the Final Four.
''I think that was big making that run last year, showing us we could get back,'' Dekker said.
They're playing one more game this year.
Wisconsin has come this far in large part to Kaminsky, the AP player of the year. He can score inside and outside and guard on the perimeter and in the paint.
Dekker can, too. He's just reaching his potential after interspersing long flashes of promise with careless turnovers or fouls.
In the tournament, Dekker is averaging 20.6 points, up from 13.9 points for the season. He's shooting 61 percent (38 of 62) from the field in the tourney, nine points higher than his season average.
And he's found his rhythm from behind the arc after coming into the NCAAs in a slump. Dekker is shooting 50 percent (15 of 30) from 3-point range; he had been averaging 33 percent for the season.
Dekker is brimming with confidence, even if his late, high-arcing 3 did give Badgers fans pause with how long it seemed to hang in the air.
''Sam launched that 3 and it was a much better one than the one that they had to check to see if the backboard cracked,'' coach Bo Ryan said. ''And nobody was surprised on our bench that it went in, either.''
The fans decked in red and white, of course, roared their approval.
''Getting wins shouldn't be surprising to us, and coming back, knowing what we have and the coaching staff we have, we're not (going to) change. We're (going to) be us,'' Dekker said. ''We got down a little bit today and we didn't change our game, we change our look. We did what we do.''
And they did a little bit better than last year, thanks in large part the emergence of Dekker.