No. 2 Wisconsin entered the season as one of the teams expected to rank amongst the best teams in the country, and thus far they’ve done little to dispel that notion. Entering Thursday’s Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal against Georgetown, Bo Ryan’s team hadn’t encountered much trouble in winning their first five games of the season.
That would change against a Georgetown team led by point guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera that will only get better as the season wears on, and an argument can be made that John Thompson III’s team is already a Top 20 squad. Frank Kaminsky struggled to deal with Georgetown center Joshua Smith for most of the contest, and senior guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser sat out a significant portion of the second half due to foul trouble.
The good news for Wisconsin: reserves Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan were ready to step forward, and their play ultimately led to the Badgers beating the Hoyas 68-65.
Koenig (14 points, four assists) and Dukan (eight points, three rebounds) combined to score 22 of Wisconsin’s 24 bench points, with 18 of those points coming in the second half. Georgetown led by as much as nine in the second half, but the production of Koenig and Dukan kept the Hoyas from strengthening their grip on the proceedings.
Sam Dekker finished with 17 points and Nigel Hayes, who added 15 points and scored an important tip-in with 20 seconds remaining to push Wisconsin’s lead out to three, were also important Thursday afternoon. And nationally the focus will be on Dekker and Kaminsky, as both are expected to rate amongst the best players in the country.
But one of Wisconsin’s greatest strengths is the fact that their entire seven-man rotation experienced last season’s Final Four run. From the stars to the role players they understand what it takes to win big games, and that includes players stepping forward when a teammate (or teammates) is struggling. Dukan and Koenig stepped forward Thursday, resulting in Wisconsin remaining undefeated.