Typically Wisconsin basketball fans only root against a team from Green Bay once a year. Yesterday was that day… No, not the Packers but the Phoenix.
The projected Horizon League champions, Green Bay Phoenix (1-1), gave the Badgers (3-0) all they could handle on Saturday night — on a day when Wisconsin’s football and hockey teams both won.
No. 20 Wisconsin went on the road to the Resch Center in Green Bay and won the first half 34-29 after recovering from poor shooting from the perimeter.
In the second half junior Keifer Sykes led the Phoenix’s attack and scored a total of 32 points on the game. With 11:29 left in the game Green Bay took control and got out to a 50-43 lead over Wisconsin. The game was seemingly on the verge of being put away by the Phoenix and their impressive student section – for a Horizon league school.
When the Badgers needed an answer they looked to their own junior in Frank Kaminsky. He hit a three and moments later the Badgers were off to a 10-0 run, as they took back control of the game.
Sophomore Sam Dekker reentered the game and took over with help from solid play by freshman Nigel Hayes. With five minutes to go the Badgers had a 60-54 lead and it looked like smooth sailing toward a 3-0 start. But Sykes and the Phoenix had other plans and battled back.
With three minutes to play it was a two-point ball game at 60-62 in favor of the visiting Badgers.
Over the next two and a half minutes Kaminsky had a big block, a couple large rebounds and made two big free throws, pushing the Badgers’ lead to 67-64.
With only :23 seconds left in the game Green Bay had the ball down by three with no timeouts. Green Bay’s Carrington Love made a layup with :14 seconds to go as the Badgers clung to a 67-66 lead. Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson were both fouled and combined to make two free throws giving the Badgers a 69-66 lead.
At the buzzer the phenomenal Sykes took what would have been the game tying three-pointer but as the buzzer sounded it hit the rim and to the home crowd’s displeasure, didn’t fall through the hoop.
The Badgers held on against the competitive in-state rival as they improved to 3-0 on the season.
Kaminsky led Wisconsin in scoring with 16 points and possibly the best overall game of his career. Dekker chipped in 13 points with timely baskets and Gasser bounced back from his zero-point game against Florida with 11 points. It is of note that highly-touted freshman Bronson Koenig went 3-3 from the field and finished with seven points in the most minutes he’s received all year – a respectable 23 minutes.
Game Ball: Goes to Kaminsky for his much-needed leadership, scoring and defense. Honorable mention goes to the freshman Hayes for his solid defense and his ability to create his own shot, finishing with six points.
What this means: The Badgers have beaten three teams that have legitimate NCAA Tournament potential. And maybe even more importantly Bo Ryan’s willingness to travel to other smaller schools in Wisconsin’s buildings not only builds character for his own team but also enhances the whole state of Wisconsin’s college basketball infrastructure and competition.
Dark Spot: The Badgers free throw shooting down the stretch wasn’t great with a few crucial misses that could have put the game away but overall they shot 12-17 (70.6%) from the charity stripe – which isn’t terrible.
Looking Forward: The Badgers look to improve to 4-0 as they face North Dakota (1-0) next Tuesday Nov. 19, at the Kohl Center on Big Ten Network at 7:00 PM ET.
Keep On, Wisconsin.