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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Wisconsin Badgers have never missed advancing to the NCAA tournament with Bo Ryan as their coach.
Still, Ryan had some reservations about what his 13th season at the Wisconsin helm would hold when the Badgers started playing games earlier this month.
"I didn't know that much about our team when we got against the St. John's, the Green Bay's, the Florida's," said Ryan, rattling off the Badgers' first three opponents.
He might be able to rest a little easier after the Badgers navigated that stretch unscathed.
Frank Kaminsky scored 16 points and Sam Dekker added 13 to help No. 20 Wisconsin rally for a 69-66 win over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday night.
The Badgers (3-0) were down seven in the second half and overcame a career-high 32 points by Green Bay junior guard Keifer Sykes. His potential game-tying 3-pointer bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Wisconsin improved to 19-1 all-time against the Phoenix (1-1).
A sellout crowd of 9,906 at the Resch Center set a home attendance record for Green Bay. The previous record was 9,759, when the Phoenix upset then-No. 23 Wisconsin 88-84 in overtime on Dec. 9, 2009.
Josh Gasser added 11 points for the Badgers, who were coming off a 59-53 win over No. 11 Florida in Madison on Tuesday.
"I'm learning things that they really need a lot of work on," Ryan said of his players, "and I'm learning some things that they've done pretty well that we have to continue to do well."
Led by Kaminsky, a 7-foot junior, Wisconsin overcame a 50-43 deficit.
The Badgers hung on down the stretch as Green Bay closed the gap to 67-66 on a basket by Carrington Love with 12 seconds left.
After Traevon Jackson made one of two free throws, Kaminsky had a big block from behind as Sykes drove to the basket with 5 seconds to play.
"I think on the layup I took off from too far, and I tried to flip it up there," Sykes said. "I think I could've taken another dribble or used my floater to get a better shot."
Kaminsky went to the foul line on the other end. He made the first free throw to push the lead to 69-66, but he stepped over the line on his second attempt for a lane violation.
That gave the ball back to Green Bay with 4.3 seconds left and a chance to send the game to overtime, only to have Sykes' 3-point attempt just off the mark.
Sykes, a quick and versatile 5-11 junior, was 13-of-26 shooting, but just 2-for-8 from 3-point range. His previous career high was 31 points on two occasions.
No other Green Bay player reached double figures for scoring.
It was a tough loss for the Phoenix, the preseason favorite in the Horizon League.
"We fully expected to win this game, so we weren't happy about it," Sykes said. "We played a close game and a really good team, but 100 percent, we expect to win. I told the guys I just have to make more plays down the stretch."
Alec Brown, the Phoenix's 7-1 senior standout, had only two points on 1-for-5 shooting before fouling out with 4:25 left.
"We had it in our scouting report to be physical with him, and I think we did that," Kaminsky said. "With him on the bench, I think that was advantage us."
By then, Wisconsin had regained the lead after falling behind 50-43.
The Badgers outscored Green Bay 17-4 to go up 60-54 with 6 minutes left.
Kaminsky started the decisive spurt with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and later posted up in the lane for back-to-back baskets.
"If you saw the start of the second half, I struggled," said Kaminsky, who had only two points at halftime. "I had a couple bad plays and a turnover. I just didn't want to let my teammates down. I came back off the bench with energy and just tried to do whatever I could to get a win."
Kaminsky had eight rebounds and blocked four shots.
The Badgers, who led 34-29 at halftime, showed resiliency after Sykes gave Green Bay a big spark early in the second half.
After scoring 16 points in the first half, Sykes scored eight straight points in just 2 minutes to put the Phoenix ahead 39-35.
Green Bay extended the lead to as much as 50-43 with 11:30 left on a three-point play by junior Greg Mays.