Feb. 17, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- It took a little over five minutes – the first media timeout – for Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser to recognize that Frank Kaminsky needed to be fed; he needed the rock against Michigan.
“He just had a look in his eyes,” Jackson said, “where I just knew he wanted the ball.”
“You could see it in him,” said Gasser. “He was locked in and he was ready to go.”
Maybe it had something to do with how Michigan’s “bigs” – Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford – had such a significant impact on the Wolverines’ 77-70 win over the Badgers at the Kohl Center.
Filling the void left by Mitch McGary, who’s recovering from back surgery, the “Morford” tag team combined for 12 points (6-of-6), 15 rebounds and five blocked shots in that Jan. 18 meeting.
Going into Sunday’s rematch with Wisconsin, Morgan and Horford were rarely missing anything in the paint; they were shooting 74 and 71 percent, respectively, over the last 12 games.
Maybe they got the attention of Kaminsky, who had more than held his own against them in Madison – 14 points and four rebounds – and was on a roll of his own over the last couple of games.
After taking just one shot in 20 minutes at Illinois, he made 8 of 15 attempts in home wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. He finished with 17 points (9-of-9 from the line) against the Gophers.
It was the most that Kaminsky had scored since Nov. 23 when he had 21 against Oral Roberts. Maybe it was just the momentum that he needed to take the CBS stage on Sunday in Ann Arbor and collect 25 points and 11 rebounds.
“I just came out aggressive and started attacking the rim,” said Kaminsky, a 7-foot junior from Lisle, Ill. (Benet Academy). “I felt like I could get to the basket off the dribble in this game.”
The Badgers stunned the crowd at the Crisler Center by making six of their first seven shots. Sam Dekker got it started by beating Glenn Robinson III on an aggressive baseline drive to the rim.
It was followed by a 3-pointer from Gasser, a Ben Brust basket, and another triple from Gasser, who had matched his career high by going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the first Michigan game.
“When he (Gasser) hit those 3s,” Kaminsky said, “it really opened up the driving lanes – because they can’t help off him – and I tried to exploit those and get to the rim for easy baskets.”
Kaminsky, who was rewarded with Big Ten Co-Player of the Week honors, scored on back-to-back possessions against Morgan and the Badgers led 14-4. After the media timeout (at 14:49), Michigan coach John Beilein substituted Horford for Morgan.
By then, though, Kaminsky had already found his rhythm.
“If you’re getting to the rim and you make a couple of big plays in a row,” he said, “you’re going to have confidence and you’re going to want the ball every play down the court.
“I think that happened today. I wanted the ball in my hands and I was able to make some things happen. If you’re getting some easy buckets, you want to try and get some more.”
That was exactly the vibe that Kaminsky was sending his teammates.
|“Trae said, ‘We’re going inside; go make something happen,’” Kaminsky recounted. “He can be pretty demanding sometimes when he tells you to do something and I wanted to do it for him.”
“He wanted the ball in the post,” Gasser said. “He was kind of demanding it more than I’ve seen in awhile. We just told him, ‘Go to work, they can’t guard you.’ I really think he fed off that confidence.”
Wisconsin assistant coaches Gary Close and Lamont Paris saw the same things.
“I thought he was really sharp from the beginning,” Close said. “He looked like he was in-tune to what was going on and he made some plays around the basket which sets up his whole game. Now, you’ve got to cover him all over the court.”
Added Paris, “He was aggressive. At one point, they started to spread the floor and extended defensively which opened up some driving lanes and it was harder to get back to recover on him. When he put the ball on the floor, he had an opportunity to get an angle going towards the basket.”
Meanwhile, the Badgers were also playing aggressively on defense. The Wolverines scored a season-low 19 points in the first half on 7-of-22 shooting (.318). They also had seven turnovers. By contrast, Michigan shot 61 percent and scored 43 points over the first 20 minutes in Madison.
“We tried to make shots tough for them,” Dekker said. “They have some of the best scorers in the league – guys who can hit any shot at any time. But when you can make their looks a little tougher, it’s definitely going to work in your favor.”
That has been Gasser’s formula against the top scorers in the Big Ten – like Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who had as many turnovers as baskets at halftime Sunday. He had four points. He would end up with 11, well under his average. For only the third time this season, he didn’t make a 3-pointer.
“Josh did a good job on him,” Dekker said. “Stauskas is one of the best players, he’s one of the best scorers, and I think he’s the best shooter in the league and, when you have a guy like that slowed down, it makes your chances to win much higher.”
Everyone sensed that it was just a matter of time before the Wolverines would counter-punch. Caris LeVert’s nickname is “Baby Durant” and he began to look like Kevin Durant to the Badgers, especially in the second half. LeVert took over the game and made three triples during a 23-10 run.
“He was hitting some tough shots,” said Jackson. “You don’t want to give him any easy ones and I think he only had one easy basket when I went under the screen. He’s just a great player.”
Wisconsin led by 16 points, 42-26, before LeVert caught fire. And, now, all of a sudden, it was a one-possession game, and the Badgers were clinging to a 52-49 lead with a little over six minutes to play. “And the place was going crazy,” Close observed.
But the Badgers kept their poise and Jackson personally delivered a message to Kaminsky. “Trae said, ‘We’re going inside; go make something happen,’” Kaminsky recounted. “He can be pretty demanding sometimes when he tells you to do something and I wanted to do it for him.”
Kaminsky went back to work in the paint and scored on three straight possessions. “He was feeling good so we just had to get it inside,” said Jackson, who kept reminding everybody, “Hey, weather the storm, just weather the storm, keep getting stops, and we’ll start hitting our shots.’”
Kaminsky was motivated by one thing. “I didn’t want to lose, I didn’t want to let it happen,” he stressed. “I did not want to lose this game after building such a big lead in the first half. I thought we deserved to win, especially after we came out so aggressive and with so much energy.”
Close was more impressed with the UW’s response after Michigan grabbed the momentum.
“They’ve got you on the ropes a little bit on their court and it’s a really good team that you’re playing against,” he said. “But you get yourself under control and come out and execute. If you’re going to be a really high-quality team, you’ve got to be able to withstand people making runs at you.”
Especially on the road, and the catalyst was Jackson, who had six assists and zero turnovers in 37 minutes. A number of players and coaches, including head coach Bo Ryan, remarked that you won’t find a better effort out of a point guard who managed to make just one of six field goal attempts.
“He’s playing great,” Kaminsky said. “He’s finding the open people and moving the ball well. It doesn’t matter if he’s 0-for-50. He’s getting the ball to where it needs to go. He managed the game as well as any point guard could. He was calling the right plays for the right people at the right time.”
One of Jackson’s clutch assists came on a dribble penetration and a kick to Gasser, who nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing corner to extend the lead to 62-51.
“Those are the plays that Trae has to make for us to win at the highest level,” Paris said. “When he does, we’re a hard team to beat.”
Kaminsky then added a punctuation mark with a triple from the top of the key. “He was everywhere,” Stauskas said. “He was hitting jumpers. He was getting to the basket. He was posting up. He was doing everything for them. He played a great game. We have to tip our hat to him.”
Kaminsky merely shrugged after being asked for the umpteenth time about his first career double-double and why everything seemed to fall into place – he was 7-of-7 in the second half.
With a smile, he said, “When you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it and you’ve got to go with what you’re feeling.”