INDIANAPOLIS — The Wisconsin Badgers dealt with last season's Final Four heartbreaker at the hands of Kentucky in different ways.
Sam Dekker says some of his teammates "refused" to watch the game.
He wasn't one of them.
Dekker first took a look at the tape a couple of days later, back home in Wisconsin.
His mindset for that viewing? "Me being sour and angry and sad."
He watched it again a few weeks later: "Just getting over it."
Dekker saw "bits and pieces" of the game from there. Then, on the night before the Badgers' season opener, he settled in for one last look. By the time Aaron Harrison delivered that final, improbable blow, the possibilities of the future outshone the pains of the past.
"This is the stage we want to be on again," he recalled thinking at the time. "And it kind of got me pumped up to go."
The Badgers are back in the same spot this week, and Dekker is better than ever.
Wisconsin's homegrown, 6-foot-9 junior forward is arguably the hottest player coming into Saturday's national semifinal games.
Before this NCAA Tournament, he had three games with 20 or more points all season. He's already matched that in just four tourney games. In the six games immediately preceding the tournament, he was 2-for-17 from three-point range. In four games of March Madness, he's 13-for-27 from out there.
Dekker was the driving force behind the Badgers' amazing second half against Arizona in last weekend's Elite Eight. In a 20-minute span when it seemed like Wisconsin couldn't miss, Dekker literally didn't.
He made all six of his field-goal attempts in that half. Five of those were threes, the last one to put the Badgers up eight points with 19 seconds left and ensure another trip to the Final Four.
By then, Dekker had a career-high 27 points — breaking his previous best of 23 set just two days earlier in a Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina.
"They know I can score," Dekker said of his teammates. "And sometimes they just have to light that fire underneath me, and just kind of get me going. Say, 'Hey, Sam, you can take over. Be yourself."
Dekker is the toast of Madison these days, but it's been a rocky road.
He was basically a folk hero before he ever played a game for the Badgers.
A five-star prospect in the recruiting class of 2012, Dekker is the highest-rated recruit to wear a Wisconsin uniform in 10 years. His final shot as a high school player was a long, off-balance three-pointer with 3 seconds left in the state title game to cap a ridiculous comeback and give his team the championship.
On that night, he scored 12 points in the final 48 seconds.
He's always been a productive college player, too, but it's rarely been enough for a fan base that expected so much, so early. After three years of criticism, Dekker seems immune to its effect.
"I think that comes with having a lot of expectations," he said here Friday. "Fans are going to be fans. They can say what they want. They watch the games. But they don't know, really, anything. They're not there in the morning. They're not there at night, shooting with us. They're not in the weight room with us. They're not out on the court or in the locker room.
"But that's their position to have. They can say what they want from their view on the TV, and that's not going to affect me. I'm going to be me, and I'm going to play my game."
His game is a big reason Wisconsin is two victories away from a national title.
He spoke Friday of taking a step back and appreciating where he and his teammates are this weekend. And his repeated viewings of last year's game against Kentucky give him hope that they can make it one step further this time.
"It made me realize we were one possession away from playing for the national title, and that goal is attainable," he said. "Knowing the group we had coming back ... I knew it was something we could do again."
Last time, it was Aaron Harrison who had the hot hand going into this game.
This time, it's Sam Dekker.
"I've always been one for the big shot," he said. "I always like having the ball in my hands late in games. ... I don't really think that confidence has ever wavered."