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November 12, 2013

Gator hunting: UW wins, 59-53

MADISON, Wis. - The opening minutes of No. 20 Wisconsin's game against No. 11 Florida looked eerily like last season's matchup, when the Gators out-classed the Badgers in a 74-56 win in Gainesville. But the Badgers overcame an early shooting slump and held the Gators in check during the second half to lock up a 59-53 win at the Kohl Center on Tuesday night.

The Gators opened the game on a 16-4 run, with guard Michael Frazier hitting three straight 3-pointers off the bench. But the Badgers held the Gators to just 3-of-13 shooting from the floor during the rest of the half, while Sam Dekker helped the Badgers get their offense back on track. Dekker hit back-to-back 3-pointers in just under 30 seconds, ending a four-minute scoring drought where the Badgers missed four shots and turned the ball over twice.

After Dekker's outburst the Badgers finished the half on a 19-10 run, and they kept their momentum going in to the second half. Florida shot just 37.5 percent from the floor in the second half, whereas the Badgers shot 42.9 percent- including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Dekker led the Badgers with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the floor, while Traevon Jackson finished the game with 13 points. Jackson in particular played a key role for the Badgers at the end of the game, hitting a 2-point jumper with eight seconds left to ice the game for the Badgers and give them a five-point lead.

And while Jackson had a few crucial turnovers earlier in the half, head coach Bo Ryan said Jackson's experience late in games was too valuable to take off the court.

"[Jackson] has been in so many tough situations that I wasn't trading him in the last five minutes," Ryan said after the game.

Freshman forward Nigel Hayes also gave the Badgers several crucial minutes in relief of Frank Kaminsky, who picked up two fouls in the first half and had to spend some time on the bench. Hayes finished his first true home game as a Badger with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor, pulling down two rebounds along the way.

"I think it was a huge, huge, huge came for Nigel," Jackson said after the game. "He's so talented. I was so encouraged by him that he came in attacking and being aggressive. That's what we need for him to do, not to just be passive."

Wisconsin defeats Florida

As a team the Badgers out-rebounded the Gators 31-28, despite starting a smaller lineup with three guards and two forwards. The Badgers also scored 20 points in the paint to Florida's 22, which helped them draw 18 fouls and got them to the free throw line 14 times.

Up next the Badgers will head north for a game against UW-Green Bay, who defeated the Badgers the last time they made the trip up to the Resch Center in 2009. But even though Dekker said the Badgers were thrown in to the deep end to start their season, two wins against quality opponents should give them a little more spring in their step as they gear up for the long haul.

"I just think we're a good team playing against other good teams," Dekker said. "We'll learn a lot from these games. We made a lot of mistakes today, myself included. Stuff that we need to correct, stuff that we will correct. It was nice to get two big wins under our belt and now we've got another big game on Saturday with Green Bay."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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