March 15, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHICAGO -- Before his growth spurt, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky was comfortable assuming the identity of a point guard; a role that the 6-foot-11, 230-pound Kaminsky revisited at a very critical juncture Friday against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
After the Wolverines had scored nine unanswered points, the Badgers were clinging to a precarious 56-54 lead when Kaminsky coolly knocked down a mid-range jumper with the shot clock running down.
Kaminsky’s clutch basket came with 2:26 remaining and was part of a 12-5 finishing kick that lifted Wisconsin to a 68-59 victory and a season sweep of the Wolverines, one of two Big Ten teams that have been ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The Badgers will draw the other one Saturday in a semifinal matchup with top-seeded Indiana.
So how would Kaminsky best describe his small-man moves? “We practice that shot in practice, it’s not new; but in a game, it’s been a long time -- it was probably in high school when I was a point guard way back when,’’ said Kaminsky, a local product of Benet Academy.
“I peeked up and saw the shot clock was at 4 (seconds), and I would have passed it,’’ said Kaminsky, who spotted someone out of the corner of his eye, “but I was like, ‘No, there’s not enough time,’ so I took a dribble and shot it.
“It honestly didn’t feel right coming out of my hands. I thought I air-balled it, but it hit the front of the rim and just kind of bounced in.’’
Ben Brust made it all possible, too. Brust rebounded Traevon Jackson’s deflected shot on the baseline and drew a foul by Spike Albrecht, which extended the possession. Kaminsky added the punctuation mark; as he did with a layup with 56 seconds left.
“I was surprised I caught it to be completely honest,’’ Kaminsky said of Jackson’s dump-off pass in the paint. “Trae came up to me afterward and said, ‘Thanks for catching it.’ Shot clock stuff. You’ve just got to get a quick shot, so I turned around and shot and got another good bounce.’’
The Badgers got a lot of them in the second half while shooting a sizzling 61 percent, including 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc. What was the difference? After all, Wisconsin made only five shots from the field in the first half and went 2-of-13 from the perimeter.
“In the first half, we came out kind of flat; we were not moving on offense,’’ said Kaminsky, who made his first triple since Feb. 20 at Northwestern, ending an 0-for-9 stretch. “In the second half, we kind of ran the offense through Ryan (Evans). We just played with more energy on the offensive end.’’
Although the Badgers were struggling on offense in the first half, so was Michigan in large part because of UW’s defense and ball pressure. The Wolverines were guilty of eight turnovers, only one fewer than they’ve been averaging over 40 minutes.
“It wasn’t like we were sitting there and they were missing a bunch of wide-open jumpers,’’ said Wisconsin senior Mike Bruesewitz. “We made them work extremely hard for everything they got. In the lane, Berg (Jared Berggren) was blocking shots and we weren’t letting (Trey) Burke and (Tim) Hardaway get a lot of looks.
“That’s what our mentality is,’’ Bruesewitz stressed. “If our shots aren’t falling, we have to sit down defensively and make teams work extremely hard. That’s what we did and that’s what kept us in the game.’’
Bruesewitz had nothing but praise for the way the Badgers responded with a counter punch after Michigan’s 9-0 run. “I loved it when we showed some grit,’’ he said. “We had guys who wanted the ball. When we needed to make plays we did. Frank Kaminsky came up huge for us.’’
What about Kaminsky’s shot that triggered Wisconsin’s late run? Had he seen that one before? “He does it in open gym over the summer,’’ Bruesewitz said. “We play a little differently in the summer. We’re more free-flow and little freelance.
"A little bit of Open Gym Frank came to play today. We need more of that, we need guys playing loose and having fun.’’
It wasn’t a whole lot of fun for Jared Berggren. Despite the sluggish start, though, he didn’t get frustrated, even after missing his first two shots of the second half.
“It’s tough, but my teammates did a good job of picking me up; they kept encouraging me,’’ he said. “Hopefully I got all of my misses out of the way.’’
Indiana’s Cody Zeller, of course, poses the ultimate challenge to a low post defender like Berggren. “We have to make him work,’’ Berggren said. “We have to try and not give him anything easy. He’s going to get some points, he’s going to get some rebounds, all those things, because he’s such a good player.’’
Bruesewitz has his own formula for the Hoosiers. “We have to hold the defensive end,’’ he said. “We have to make sure we contain Zeller as best as we can. We know, obviously, he’s a great player and he’s going to get his.
“We have to make sure we contain (Victor) Oladipo and we have to make sure that we contain them in transition, because that’s what they do. We have to run them off the 3-point line and make them shoot tough 2-point jumpers.’’
Bruesewitz had one last thought, which goes a long way in describing what this team is all about.
“Everybody talks about Zeller running the floor,’’ he said with no disrespect, “but we’ve got a pretty good player in Jared Berggren who runs the floor just as well. That’s my mentality right now.
“Bring it on. Let’s go.’'