Wis.-Green Bay-Wisconsin Preview
Wisconsin began its run to the Final Four last season by winning its first 16 games to set a school record, but one of its toughest tests in that stretch came against high-scoring guard Keifer Sykes and Green Bay.
The third-ranked Badgers look to avoid another scare from their in-state counterpart as they host the Phoenix on Wednesday night.
Nearly five months before Wisconsin fell just short of reaching the national championship game, it led Green Bay by one with 12 seconds remaining before holding on for a 69-66 road victory Nov. 16, 2013.
Sykes scored 32 points, but he was the only Phoenix player in double figures. He’ll likely need more help if Green Bay (1-0) wants to avoid a fifth straight loss to the Badgers since an 88-84 overtime win Dec. 9, 2009 – its last victory over a ranked opponent.
Wisconsin opened by beating Northern Kentucky 62-31 on Friday before Sunday’s 89-45 rout of Chattanooga, holding those opponents to a combined 29.4 percent shooting.
Star forward Frank Kaminsky, who had 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks against Green Bay last season, finished with 15 points and 10 boards against the Mocs.
The Badgers won Sunday’s rebounding battle 49-21, with the plus-28 margin their best since a plus-35 showing against Prairie View in 2010. They could be even stronger on the boards with the return of 6-foot-10 senior Duje Dukan, who won his appeal and was granted a medical redshirt for missing the 2012-13 season while recovering from mononucleosis.
Dukan was forced to sit out the first two games as part of the ruling.
"We’re going to need to be deeper, of all the things that go on within the course of the year, with nicks and flus, and things like that," coach Bo Ryan said. "(Dukan will) be a welcomed addition back, along with what the other guys have been doing. (It’s) very early. Teams are replacing some players from last year more so than us."
Forward Sam Dekker also is looking forward to the debut of Dukan, who averaged 2.8 points in 38 games off the bench last season. He played an average of 8.1 minutes, but is expected to see a bigger role in 2014-15.
"I just see it as another weapon. Duje can hoop, so we’re really excited to get him back," said Dekker, averaging 16.5 points and 63.2 percent shooting. "He causes a lot of problems for a lot of people and we’re ready for a big year for him. He’s itching to get out there."
The Badgers will be the first top-5 team the Phoenix have faced since a loss at then-No. 5 Kentucky on Dec. 6, 1996, and Sykes may be the key to pulling off an another such upset.
The senior became the 10th player in school history to reach 1,500 points Saturday, netting 22 in an 88-57 win over Division II Illinois-Springfield. Sykes went 8 of 11 from the field and 2 of 3 from 3-point range.
He finished third in the Horizon League with 20.3 points per game last season and averaged 25.6 in seven contests against NCAA tournament teams.
”Anyone who knows Keifer Sykes knows he has put that time in, he’s put that work in to improve,” coach Brian Wardle said. ”He knows going into this year he doesn’t have to score 20 a night to win. He just needs to change the game on both ends to help this team win.”