MADISON, Wis. — There will be nights this season in which the 3-point shot falls with much less frequency for Wisconsin’s basketball team. Nights when the other team won’t disappear and make things easy — it can’t always be as easy as it had been this week, right?
Saturday, it turned out, was one of those nights when circumstances — wayward outside shooting and a hotter-than-expected opponent — collided to make for a closer result than usual.
The most encouraging sign was No. 12 Wisconsin’s ability to win anyway, fending off Oral Roberts for a 76-67 victory at the Kohl Center. In the process, the Badgers moved to 6-0 to begin a season for just the second time in coach Bo Ryan’s 13 years in charge of the program.
Wisconsin, playing its third home game in five nights, was coming off blowout victories against North Dakota and Bowling Green. In each contest, the Badgers made 12-of-20 3-pointers and generally appeared as though they could have drained shots from deeper on each possession.
Those games helped boost Wisconsin’s 3-point accuracy rate this season to 48.5 percent, which ranked No. 5 in the country entering Saturday and was the highest percentage of any team in a power-six conference.
Against Oral Roberts, however, Wisconsin shot 7-of-23 from behind the arc (30.4 percent). Sam Dekker, one of the team’s best shooters, missed all four of his 3-point attempts. And down the stretch, they were forced to attack the rim or risk a stunning upset.
“We talk about it all the time,” Ryan said. “Some nights they’re not there. So you have to find other ways to manufacture points. We definitely shot more free throws. I thought we were cutting hard in streaks pretty well, which got us to the line.
“So yeah, it’s one of those where they call ‘averages’ averages for a reason. Because they take multiple scores and percentages and then put them together and divide by the number of games. The percentage we were shooting from 3, you know there’s going to be some games where that’s not going to happen.”
The Badgers, who start a three-guard lineup, will no doubt be heavily dependent on their 3-point shot this season. All five of the team’s starters can shoot from long range — even Wisconsin’s starting center, Frank Kaminsky, is 11-for-20 on 3s this season.
Wisconsin entered the night ranked 20th among 347 Division 1 teams in the percentage of points that came from the 3-point line (36.3 percent). By contrast, the Badgers were No. 324 out of 347 in the percentage of points that came on 2-pointers (42.5 percent). But those numbers were not reflective of the team’s performance on Saturday.
UW led by as many as 17 points in the first half when Duje Dukan’s layup gave the Badgers a 28-11 edge. The Golden Eagles closed to within nine at halftime, 37-28, and clawed to within 63-59 with 5:14 remaining.
Kaminsky responded by scoring inside, and the Badgers came up with a crucial defensive stop and forced a turnover with one second remaining on the Oral Roberts shot clock. Later in the game, after Ben Brust missed a 3-pointer from the corner, he rebounded his own shot and found Josh Gasser under the hoop to extend the lead to 70-62 and help put the game away.
“Shots aren’t going to fall every game,” Gasser said. “And it’s nice to have a guy like Frank inside you can get the ball to and can almost score at will. Sometimes those shots aren’t falling, we’ll just call a play to get him the ball in the post and make plays that way. Him or Sam or any of our guards.
“A good way to score is to get to the free-throw line, get the ball as close to the basket as you can and hopefully make a play. We’ve been pretty successful with that so far.”
Though Wisconsin did not shoot particularly well from deep, the Badgers did take advantage of their size inside and made 20 of 35 2-pointers (57.1 percent) and 15 of 28 free throws (83.3 percent). They also tallied 12 offensive rebounds to Oral Roberts’ three and forced 14 turnovers.
Kaminsky capped a spectacular week in which he broke the single-game scoring record (43 points) against North Dakota with a team-high 21 points against Oral Roberts.
“To see Frank really get into his rhythm this week was huge,” said Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson, who finished with 11 points and seven assists. “We need him. We needed an inside presence. We always can shoot 3s. We know we can all do that. To see him really grow into his own down there is huge, so that’s been good.”
Jackson polished off the game by hitting four free throws in the final minute, making him the fifth of five starters to score in double figures Saturday night. It marked the third time in six games this season that Wisconsin had at least five players in double digits.
As a means of comparison, last year’s team had five players score in double figures three times all season.
“I told our guys, it’ll be the best offensive team we’ll play all year,” Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton said. “To be able to have five weapons on the floor at all times that not only can shoot the ball, they can drive the ball. They’re smart. They play well together. They’re just very efficient.
“If you told me we would hold them, they’re averaging 10 3-pointers a game, they make seven and shoot 30 percent, we did a heck of a job. They can score in different ways.”
On Saturday, they scored in just enough different ways to escape another game unscathed.
“Fortunately, we held on long enough that the clock ran out,” Ryan said. “And we were ahead.”