Feb. 23, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- It’s a play that they’ve run in open gym in July. It’s a play that they’ve run in practice in January. It’s a play that Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser and center Frank Kaminsky have executed countless times; so much so that they can communicate the action on a slip screen without saying a word.“
Josh has that quarterback’s mentality and he sees things really well,” Kaminsky said of Gasser who played quarterback through his junior year at Port Washington High School. “He knows where people are supposed to be and he puts the ball where it needs to go.”
After Josh Oglesby, who scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, had given Iowa a 72-71 lead with less than a minute to play last Saturday at a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the 6-3 Gasser and 7-foot Kaminsky worked a two-man game against 6-9 Aaron White and 6-10 Gabriel Olaseni.
“I had the ball with 10 or 15 seconds left on the shot clock,” Gasser said, “and I knew Frank was set to give me a ball screen, and that’s where one of us had to make a play. They hedged pretty hard (with Olanseni), I created some space and I saw Frank rolling (to the rim).”
What did Kaminsky see? “Because Josh had hit some 3’s, some big shots earlier,” he said, “they hedged a little harder on the ball screen and I was able to slip right to the rim and he hit me over the top. I have the confidence in Josh that he would it put it in there.”
The confidence is mutual. “I trust Frank that if I lob it up there,” said Gasser, “that he’s got great hands and great feet and he’s going to go and get it and make a play. I just wanted to get him in the best shape to score a bucket.”
The timing was impeccable between Gasser and Kaminsky, who made the catch and scored to give the Badgers a 73-72 lead with 36 seconds remaining. “Once I saw his eyes and once I saw his hand go up,” Gasser said, “there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to make the pass to him.”
Pausing, to savor the moment, Gasser added, “He’s got great finishing ability.”
So do the Badgers who never relinquished their lead and held on for a 79-74 win over Iowa; their 10th away from the Kohl Center and their seventh in nine true road games this season. “We just have the mentality,” Kaminsky said, “that we’re going to go out and beat anyone on their home court.”
The Badgers shot 48 percent against Iowa, including 57 percent in the first half which allowed them to take a 40-31 lead after 20 minutes. In their previous road game at Michigan, they took a 15-point lead into halftime after shooting 42 percent from the field against the Wolverines.
“We talked about getting off to a hot start all week,” said Gasser. “We knew they (the Hawkeyes) wanted to score in transition, especially at home, and take a lot of 3’s to get the crowd into the game. It was our priority to keep the crowd out of it as much as we could.”
In the first meeting at the Kohl Center in early January, the Badgers fell behind 15-4 before rallying for a 75-71 victory. In a loss at Iowa City last season, the Hawks took a commanding 34-18 lead at halftime after the UW made just 6 of its first 26 shots, 1 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc.
|“I’ve been telling (Bronson Koenig) for awhile how good he is and how much better he makes us when he’s aggressive,” Gasser said. “He’s still learning, still getting better and better each day and each week. He’s going to be a heckuva player.”
On Saturday, Iowa took advantage of mistakes to jump out to a 5-0 lead but it was short-lived. “After we settled down a little bit, we got better shots,” said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. “We were pretty active on the glass, Frank got going and Bronson gave us huge minutes.”
Bronson Koenig, a freshman from La Crosse Aquinas, came off the bench to replace point guard Traevon Jackson who was guilty of a couple of turnovers in the opening possessions. “I didn’t get too much time to think about it,” Koenig said. “When I don’t think about it, I play better.”
Koenig knocked down his first shot – a 3-pointer – to lift the Badgers into a 7-5 lead. He had made only 4-of-22 from beyond the arc in Big Ten games. “When you make that first shot then you think every shot is going in,” he said, “and my confidence started to grow.”
And he just kept making shots, 4-of-5 in the first half, including 2-of-3 triples. He finished with a career-high 12 points (in 23 minutes), just the second time this season that he had reached double-figures in scoring.
“I’ve been telling him for awhile how good he is and how much better he makes us when he’s aggressive,” Gasser said. “He was unbelievable in that first half. And he’s still learning, still getting better and better each day and each week. He’s going to be a heckuva player.”
During last Thursday’s practice, Koenig made shot after shot from every location on the floor against the scout team simulating Iowa’s defense. “I’ve been shooting pretty well in practice for the past couple of weeks,” he said. “But it finally converted over to the game. I was just waiting for it.”
Koenig’s only basket in the second half came off a Jackson assist with 1:21 remaining and it pulled Wisconsin into a 71-70 lead. “Great pass by Trae,” he said. “They kind of collapsed on him and he kicked it out. I knew I was near the (3-point) line but I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that we needed points.”
The Badgers made all the critical plays down the stretch – none bigger than the slip screen – and got clutch free throw shooting from Jackson and Kaminsky to seal the victory. Kaminsky had a team-high 21 points while Sam Dekker finished with his fifth double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) of the season.
“Sam was big all day,” Gard said of Dekker who has scored 10 or more points in 23 of 27 games. “He’s starting to grow into his own and starting to understand what we want more consistently. When he plays aggressive and tough-minded like that, he’s a really good player.”
Kaminsky has accounted for 17, 25 and 21 points over the last three games.
“He’s so hard to guard,” Gard said. “He can shoot the 3 so you’re worried about that. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor; he’s always had that. But now he has a tougher mindset and he’s more physical at the rim, so he’s able to play through contact and finish.”
What has been Wisconsin’s formula for success on the road?
“We’ve hit shots which has helped; it gives you confidence and it takes the air out of the home crowd,” Gard said. “But we’re also growing as far as the maturity level and toughness of this team. You have to be mentally tough enough to withstand the runs that they’ve had (at Michigan and Iowa).
“When they took a four-point lead (Saturday), we didn’t get rattled – or let it grow to a six or seven point lead – instead we were able to chip away and get it back to where we needed it.”
Gasser personified that toughness. After Iowa took a 64-60 lead, he answered with a 3-pointer. After the Hawkeyes went up 68-66, Gasser hit another triple. After the Hawks grabbed their last lead of the game, he hit Kaminsky with the lob pass. “I just felt I needed to make a play for us,” Gasser said.
The Badgers made them all when they counted. And now they will seek to sustain their momentum Tuesday night against Indiana at the Kohl Center. “We don’t want to drop any games,” Kaminsky said, “because we know we’re still in this Big Ten title race.”