March 8, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky walked out of the Kohl Center late Wednesday with a stiff upper lip and a bloodied lower one. He kept the former during a stretch when he made only 2 of 16 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. He got the latter after tangling with Purdue’s A.J. Hammons.
It was all in a day’s and night’s work.
Given how Kaminsky has impacted this season in so many positive ways -- not to mention how far he has come from averaging 10.3 minutes, 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in 32 games last season -- it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the 7-foot UW junior center off their first-team All-Big Ten ballot.
Josh Gasser doesn’t get to vote. But he has a pretty good idea of what a first-teamer should look like -- in or out of this conference -- since he has guarded so many of them while serving as a defensive stopper with the Badgers. That encompasses 100 career games overall, 96 as a starter.
“I was actually thinking about that (the All-Big Ten team) today and Frank is definitely deserving,” Gasser said after Friday’s practice. “You look at a lot of the top scorers, a lot of the guys who are getting notoriety around the league, and they’re guards.”
Gasser listed, in no particular order, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble. There’s also one notable hybrid guard-forward, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway. Most first-team All-Big Ten ballots might include all four players, and rightly so.
“But when you look at the best ‘big’ in the Big Ten, it has to be Frank Kaminsky, in my opinion,” Gasser said. “There’s no one else who has helped out his team more than him. I hope he gets it (All-Big Ten). Obviously, it doesn’t matter too much in the big picture. But it’s something he definitely deserves.”
Gasser was not forgetting Michigan State’s State Adreian Payne, a 6-10 senior center. “He’s obviously a tremendous player and he has done so much for them (the Spartans),” said Gasser, who has nothing but respect for Payne. “But he hasn’t been on the court as much as Frank has this season.”
Payne has missed seven league games with a foot injury. Since returning, he has averaged 15 points and seven rebounds over the last eight games. By comparison, Kaminsky has averaged 17 points and seven rebounds over the last six, including three games of 21, 22 and 25 points.
The Badgers are all about balance on offense. They have three players among the top 20 scorers in the Big Ten: No. 14, Kaminsky (12.6 points); No. 15, Ben Brust (12.6); and No. 18 Sam Dekker (12.1). They’re followed by Traevon Jackson (11.0); Gasser (9.7); and sixth man Nigel Hayes (9.6).
|“All that individual stuff is something you can look back on when you’re older,” Gasser said. “Right now, we’re focusing on winning.”
The Badgers are all about team goals, not individual achievement, Gasser stressed, when asked if he’d like to hear his name in the All-Big Ten discussion based on his all-around game. He leads the conference in free throw shooting percentage and he’s second in 3-point field goal shooting percentage.
“I’d love to get some recognition, but I’d much rather have a Big Ten championship trophy and a Final Four (trip),” said Gasser, a redshirt junior from Port Washington, Wis. “All that individual stuff is something you can look back on when you’re older. Right now, we’re focusing on winning.”
Pressed, though, on who should represent the Badgers on the All-Big Ten team, Gasser said, “Frank, more than anyone else, deserves it. His improvement from last year to this year is tremendous.
“Ask any Big Ten coach,” Gasser went on. “He’s the guy that is really hard to prepare for and I think that should go into determining a first-team all-league player.”
Purdue’s Matt Painter was saying as much Wednesday after the Badgers knocked off the Boilermakers, 76-70, for their eighth-straight victory. Kaminsky’s 22 points came on only 11 shots. He made eight of them, highlighted by his 3-point shooting; he was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
“That’s pretty efficient,” said Painter, noting the ability of Kaminsky and Hayes to stretch a defense with their range. “Frank has done a really good job of taking what the defense gives him. If he feels like he has a mismatch, he’s going to look to drive. He does a good job of picking his spots.”
Over the previous three games, Kaminsky had taken only five 3-pointers and missed them all. Not that he was aware of the numbers, because he says that he wasn’t thinking about it. “I try not to,” he said, adding that his shot felt good in practice. “But in games, no. I knew I was slumping a little bit.”
But he blocked it out -- a much easier block-out than Hammons. “I know I can shoot it,” Kaminsky said. “In a couple of games, I was able to attack the rim and find some teammates and get some easy buckets inside. When that happens, it kind of opens up your outside game.”
Kaminsky made his first four shots from beyond the 3-point line against Purdue. As he went up for a fifth attempt, you could sense the Kohl Center crowd was expecting the ball to go in as soon as he released it from his hand. “I heard it,” said Kaminsky with a grin. “I was expecting it go in, too.”
It was not unlike the home crowd reaction to just about every shot that he took in the second half against North Dakota on Nov. 19 when he set the school’s scoring record with 43 points. He was 6-for-6 on 3-pointers, a heads-up to every future opponent on the UW schedule.
“It opens the door for us,” said Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard. “Sometimes the 3-pointer is there and sometimes it’s not, based on how he gets played. With Hammons hanging in the paint a little more and wanting to protect the rim, we thought he’d be open more on the perimeter.”
Kaminsky took advantage of what Hammons gave him. “I felt like I was throwing a small ball into the ocean,” he said. “I felt like everything was going to go in. They had that in the scouting report (about Hammons) so I was prepared and ready for whenever I was open and I got a good look.”
While Kaminsky left his mark on the Boilermakers, Hammons left a couple on Kaminsky with an inadvertent elbow to the forehead and another to his face that split open his lip. “He’s one of the toughest guys to guard in the Big Ten,” Kaminsky said, “because he’s so big and long.”
Whereas the Badgers had a solid scouting report on Hammons and the Boilers -- having played them earlier in the league season -- no such luxury exists with Nebraska since the Huskers and Wisconsin will be meeting for the first time Sunday in the final Big Ten game of the regular season.
“That’s how the deck was shuffled,” said Gard, who handled the “scout” for the Cornhuskers. “Obviously, they’ve been very good at home (14-1) and Petteway’s addition and emergence has given them a spark offensively. They play with a lot of energy. They have bought into what Tim’s doing.”
Tim Miles has put the Huskers on the NCAA tournament bubble in just his second season as head coach. Gard is not surprised. He knew Miles when he was still climbing the coaching ladder at Southwest Minnesota State. At the time, Gard was coaching with Bo Ryan at UW-Platteville.
Mayville State, North Dakota State and Colorado State were the other rungs on that ladder for Miles.
“Wherever he has been, he’s always had to find ways (to succeed),” Gard said. “You’re experimenting and building and figuring out what works with limited resources at those schools.”
Ryan has followed a similar track to 699 career wins. Miles, like Ryan, now has everything that he needs to be successful and he’s coaching in front of sellout crowds in Lincoln. When the Huskers returned home after their victory Thursday night at Indiana, they were greeted by fans at the airport.
Welcome to March Madness.
“They’ve given their fans something to cheer about,” Gard said.
So have the Badgers.