Feb. 4, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Nobody may have a greater appreciation for what Wisconsin sophomore Frank Kaminsky accomplished Sunday at Illinois than senior Mike Bruesewitz, who had to overcome injury setbacks that cost him valuable practice time in October and playing time in December.
After Kaminsky came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points in the Badgers’ 74-68 win over the Illini, Bruesewitz addressed the challenge of regaining timing and confidence after being sidelined. Kaminsky missed three games after getting poked in the eye Jan. 15 at Indiana.
“Just seeing him aggressive and getting some shots to go and playing like he did (at Illinois) was really a good feeling for me because I’ve been there,” said Bruesewitz. “I know what it’s like to be hurt and come back. It’s a tough thing to do. That’s why I’m so happy for Frank.”
Bruesewitz missed a month of training camp with a severe leg laceration, the result of a freak practice accident whereby he tumbled into the basket standard. Later, he sat out the Marquette and Green Bay games with a concussion. He said he didn’t get all the way back until after holiday break.
Kaminsky admitted that he’s still adjusting to bright light in the aftermath of suffering a cut to his iris when Indiana’s Will Sheehey inadvertently poked him while contesting a rebound.
“For two or three days after it happened, I couldn’t see out of my left eye,” said Kaminsky, who didn’t even accompany the team on its Jan. 19 bus trip to Iowa City. “The first five to seven days I had to be on bed rest basically because if I couldn’t have too much activity.”
Kaminsky, who’s now wearing protective eyewear, didn’t get medical clearance to return to full-go in practice until the night before the Jan. 29 Ohio State game in Columbus. He played just four minutes in the 58-49 loss to the Buckeyes and didn’t take a shot or grab a rebound.
Ninety minutes before Sunday’s tipoff at Illinois, Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard confided, “He was really starting to play pretty well, but obviously missing two weeks didn’t help Frank. He has got to get the aggressiveness back that he had before he went down with the injury.”
Did he see the 6-foot-11, 230-pound Kaminsky as a potential wild-card?
“He can be because he can put a lot of different stresses on the defense,” said Gard, unaware that Kaminsky would end up playing 23 minutes against the Illini. “He’s able to do some things inside but he’s much more comfortable at this stage of his career playing on the perimeter -- picking and popping.
“What that does is forces the defense to stretch the floor and it allows us to play more one-on-one at the post. It also gives us a back-up for Jared (Berggren) that has some experience. We can give him (Berggren) a little more of a break and he can be more aggressive for a longer period of time.”
As it turned out, Berggren, who accounted for his first career double-double in the earlier Illinois game in Madison, played only nine minutes in the first half Sunday after picking up two fouls. He compounded that situation by picking up his third foul on the first possession of the second half.
Ready or not, Kaminsky was rushed into action to replace Berggren -- and he definitely showed that he was ready. “I had a couple of more practices under my belt,” he said. “I got more reps with the first team in practice (leading up to the Illinois game) and I definitely felt more comfortable.”
Bruesewitz pointed out afterward, “He started at one point (UW’s first two games against Southeastern Louisiana and Florida) and I kept trying to remind him of that. Man, it was huge what he did (Sunday). It was great to get Frank back. He was playing like that early in the season.”
Illinois provided the Badgers with some curious physical mismatches in the paint when the Illini switched on defense and had a guard -- often 6-1 point guard Tracy Abrams -- checking Kaminsky. When Abrams wasn’t in the game, the role was played by freshman Mike LaTulip, who’s barely 6-foot, if that.
“I was surprised I was that wide open (after LaTulip fell down) and it was one of the easiest baskets we had in the whole game,” he said. “They were switching a guard on me and I just tried to abuse that in the post. I got a couple of baskets and some fouls. I was just playing within the offense.”
After failing to get to the free throw line at Ohio State, the Badgers set a season-high by making 28-of-42 free throws at Illinois, including 19-of-31 in the second half.
Kaminsky was 12-of-14 from the line. Last season, he shot 14 free throws in 35 games combined. (He made only seven.)
“We took it at them,” Kaminsky said, “and we made a lot of hard cuts on offense. That’s what Coach (Bo Ryan) talked about -- make them actually play defense. I’m kind of surprised that it was that many (free throws), but when you look back on the game, we deserved those.”
Added Bruesewitz, “We really made an emphasis on the getting the ball inside and attacking.”
The Badgers also knocked down some timely 3-point shots. Ben Brust, who finished with a game-high 20 points, had two triples; Kaminsky had one. After reading the defense -- Illinois jumped a cutter in the lane -- Kaminsky launched. “That’s the shot I’ve been taking in practices lately,” he said.
Kaminsky made both of his 3-point attempts at Indiana before being injured. “It was good to see him get some confidence back,” said Brust, who scored in double-figures for the first time since the Big Ten opener against Penn State. “He’s really active and it helps.”
It helped, too, that Bruesewitz was able to control Illinois’ Brandon Paul, the third-leading scorer in the conference. Prior to Sunday, Paul had scored fewer than 13 points just once -- that was against the Badgers in Madison. He had eight points on 1-of-11 shooting. Sunday, he was 3-of-13.
“I just tried to make him take tough shots,” said Bruesewitz. “He’s a heckuva scorer and I just tried to be physical and wear him out. He’s going to get his touches; he’s going to get his shots. The biggest thing is that you can’t let him get a couple of easy ones to get his rhythm going.
“I had a lot of help. It wasn’t all one-on-one. He was coming off ball screens and going into the ‘bigs’ (Kaminsky and Evans). I was chasing and trying to do my best. I was able to frustrate him a little bit. That was the key -- frustrate him early -- because if he gets going, he’s really tough.”
Kaminsky said that he had extra motivation Sunday because “I wanted to come back and play well in front of my family if I had the opportunity.” Kaminsky is from Lisle, Ill., and Benet Academy. “It’s fun to play in your home state,” agreed Brust, who’s from Hawthorn Woods and Mundelein High School.
And, then, there was the pregame motivation at Illinois supplied by Ke$ha and her recording of “Die Young.” The UW players clapped along.
“We go through song phases,” Kaminsky said. “And it’s kind of our song right now. It’s something that gets us all going during warmups.”
It might become a trend -- like shooting free throws.