CHICAGO — Sam Dekker stood on the sideline with his teammates on Saturday, ready to plop himself in a cushioned seat after Wisconsin inbounded the ball to begin the second half. Just before the half started, Badgers coach Bo Ryan turned to Dekker with a few quick words of encouragement.
“He said, ‘Hey, be ready. Your time is going to come.'” Dekker said.
Boy, did it ever.
Dekker, Wisconsin’s sixth man, played a pivotal role in helping No. 22 Wisconsin knock off No. 3 Indiana, 68-56, during a Big Ten tournament semifinal at the United Center. He scored seven consecutive points to break a 43-all tie and lift the Badgers to a lead they never again surrendered.
The surge provided a much needed confidence boost for Dekker, who had struggled offensively the past 3 1/2 games. It marked one of the few times all season in which the Badgers’ freshman sensation hadn’t found the bottom of the net.
“The hoop’s been looking a little small the past couple games, but I think it opened up a little bit for me,” he said.
Dekker had made 7 of 24 shots from the field (29.1 percent) dating to Wisconsin’s game against Michigan State on March 7, including 2 of 12 3-pointers. But during the second half against Indiana, he buried 4 of 5 shots and a crucial 3-pointer from the right wing.
His run began with a fast-break layup to put Wisconsin ahead, 45-43, at the 12:05 mark of the second half. Then came the 3-pointer and another layup, all within 49 seconds. Meanwhile, the Badgers stifled the Hoosiers on the other end to pull ahead for good.
Dekker finished his day 5 of 8 from the field with 11 points in 20 minutes.
“I had to get in the open court,” Dekker said. “That freed me up. They play such tough defense lately on me. They don’t want me to shoot the ball and get free looks. That’s good coaching by them. When I have an opportunity to get in the open court like I did today, get a quick few buckets, have a scrap rebound and a kickout, those are three free looks that kind of got me going. Just raises the confidence level, makes the hoop look a little bigger.”
Dekker was a top candidate to win the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year award but lost out on the honor to Indiana guard Will Sheehey. On Saturday, Sheehey made just 1 of 7 shots from the field and scored two points in 23 minutes.
Evans on the rise: Badgers forward Ryan Evans has faced plenty of criticism this season for the facets of his game he doesn’t do particularly well. But through two Big Ten tournament games, Evans has become perhaps the go-to player on a team making a run at a conference championship.
Evans scored a team-high 16 points on 7 of 12 field-goal shooting Saturday against Indiana. He also grabbed eight rebounds and dished four assists. Including Friday’s game against Michigan, he is averaging 14.0 points and 5.0 assists.
Before the tournament, Evans had averaged 10.1 points and 1.8 assists per game.
“It reminds me a lot of how he was playing in the tournament last year,” Badgers center Jared Berggren said. “Last few games down the stretch last year he stepped up just like he is right now. Really just being a good inside presence for us. He’s really playing well. When he’s contributing like that, it makes us so much better as a team. Hopefully he continues on that trend. He’s not only scoring for himself, he’s finding a lot of open teammates as well.”
This season has been the most trying of Evans’ five-year career at Wisconsin. He was shooting 40.4 percent from the free throw line when he resorted to taking jump shots at the charity stripe in late February. Since that time, he has made 61.1 percent of his foul shots. In the Big Ten tournament he has connected on 6 of 10 attempts.
“Well, it was A, B or C. A was the jumpshot,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “B was Globetrotter, kick the ball in. Drop kick, you drop it down, you kick it up. And third was underhand. So, it was A, B or C. Ryan chose A. He’s OK with it. His numbers are up.”
Evans has not allowed those shooting struggles to affect him on defense. On Saturday, he was tasked with guarding Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, a national player of the year candidate, and recorded four blocked shots. Oladipo made 4 of 12 shots and finished with 10 points, three assists and four turnovers.
“I think we played great defense,” Evans said. “You know, that forces them to take better shots. Or if they want to go and take bad shots and play fast, that’s on them.”
Beating the best: With the victory, Wisconsin now has four wins against top-10 teams this season and seven wins against teams in the Associated Press top 25. The seven victories is tied with Indiana for the most in Division I this season.
“We’ve proven that we can beat anyone in the country,” Badgers guard Ben Brust said. “I think that’s a sense of confidence when we get out there like we’ve done this before. We don’t have to play scared or act like we’ve never done this before. That’s a good thing.”
All seven of Wisconsin’s top 25 victories have come against teams in the top 15. Before this season, the school record for victories over top-15 teams was four (1999-2000 and 2009-10).
Wisconsin can add to that total with a victory against No. 10 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship on Sunday.