Wisconsin basketball ain’t no joke.
Just ask Florida head coach and two-time National Champion, Billy Donovan, who’s team witnessed Tuesday night just how tough it can be to score, when needed, against a tough Bo Ryan-coached, Wisconsin defense.
Bo knows. He’s been preaching it since he arrived in Madison.
The Badgers improved to 21-6 against AP top-15 teams at the Kohl Center in the Bo Ryan era, and UW has won its past four against the AP top 15.
He knows what it takes to put his players in position to win against tough opponents. He knows just how much he can get from each and every person on his roster. He knows, as do his players, he expects 100 percent from everyone wearing Cardinal red, including himself.
When the No. 20 ranked Wisconsin Badgers mens basketball team upset the 10th ranked Florida Gators, 59-53, Tuesday night in Madison, it didn’t seem like an upset to those in the building. Players, coaches and fans kept their composure. Maybe part of the maturing process that’s taken almost 10 years now since the start of the Bo Ryan era began, and wins over highly-ranked teams began stacking up like cord wood.
Donovan was asked after the game on his thoughts in regards to Wisconsin Basketball and the atmoshpere Ryan has created inside the Kohl Center and Madison in general.
“Bo told me before the game that everybody turns off the heat around Madison and comes to the basketball game,” Donovan said. “It’s a beautiful building; it was a great, great environment, a tremendous experience for our basketball team.”
Before the season started, Wisconsin fans were anxious to see the maturity gained through the off-season. Especially in their starting forward and Wisconsin product, Sam Dekker.
Dekker’s biggest sequence came when Wisconsin needed it most. Trailing 16-4 early on, Dekker jump-started the UW comeback with back-to-back triples. He would score 10 points in the final 11 minutes of the half as the Badgers claimed a 29-26 halftime lead. Ryan says the execution on the court is in large part to their practice regimen and how well they prepare to be put in tough situations.
“They know, we’ve been in situations in practice,” Ryan said after the game. “We did some special situations yesterday, 10 seconds on the clock, eight seconds, side out, end-line out, I just think that we hurried ourselves up a little bit where we didn’t have to. But you have to remember that Florida has always been a very good pressure team. It’s not like our scout team could simulate some of the run and jumps that they were doing. So we tried to simulate some of that in practice, but if you aren’t doing it all the time, you don’t read it as well. So we will have to get better.”
Donovan couldn’t say enough about the job Wisconsin did in keeping the pace of the game where they wanted it. He says Dekker, who he’s seen before with Team USA, had a lot to do with it.
“The one thing I’ve always respected about Sam is when came out with the USA team before he got here to Wisconsin, he was dealing with an ankle injury. He told me hadn’t played in like a month. We were in Colorado Springs with the altitude, and he looked like the best-conditioned guy that was there. I was really impressed with his stamina, how hard he plays. He’s reckless with his body. He has no regard for his body, and I respect that. He plays really hard. I think his offensive game has really blossomed over the last year. I think his role last year, because of the experienced guys that they had, he probably was a good energy guy who could provide some offensive rebounding, some scoring, some driving. I think he’s in a situation right now where his game will really have a chance to grow. He’ll do a lot more things, inside-out, shooting‘threes’, putting it on the floor.”
Being outmaned physically on the boards by a much taller, longer opponent in Florida, the rebounding advantage was something Ryan said he was proud of afterwards, especially when looking at his guards, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson.
“They like to compete,” Ryan said. “They are not afraid of contact, they are not afraid of size. Those kind of things don’t even enter their mind. They just see the task at hand and go try to get it done. But yeah, they aren’t afraid to stick their faces in because they know they don’t have a Hollywood career later.”
Jackson’s inability to manage the press during a hard defensive push by Florida was bothersome, no doubt. Ryan eluded to that after that game, as did Jackson’s teammate, Dekker.
“You know me, I’ve never criticized a player publically or obviously to the media, so there are things that we will work on,” Ryan said of Jackson. “But he’s been in so many tough situations that I wasn’t trading him those last five minutes.”
Dekker could simply praise Jackson’s ability to stay in the game mentally, a quality he’s tried emmulating throughout his young career.
“Trae is one of the most mentally tough guys I’ve ever been around,” Dekker said. “Last year he kind of wore his emotions on his sleeve a little bit. He always ends up hitting the big shot. He’s a totally different person. He’s a great leader for us. No matter how good or bad things are going, he’s always going to be cool and collected in the last minute.”
Jackson, who along with Brust led the Badgers in rebounding, said being a part of big games like Tuesday’s is something he relishes. He said it was a BIG win for a program that needed an early season boost.
“I think it was a huge win for us,” he said. “Just keep it moving on and learn from it and keep getting better.”