March 28, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers must have felt right at home here Thursday watching so many receivers running free and open against a Bears defense. Frank Kaminsky, at times, was waving for the ball like Randall Cobb.
“It’s always good to see Aaron,’’ said Wisconsin sophomore Sam Dekker. “It’s not every day that you get the best quarterback in the NFL in your locker room. It was cool and I’m glad that he was on our side cheering.’’
There was plenty to cheer about in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament after the Badgers crushed the Baylor Bears, 69-52, in a West Regional semifinal. An animated Dekker said, “It’s pretty special. I’m enjoying this ride and we’re trying to go a lot further.’’
Animated can be defined in many ways. Lively. High-spirited. Energetic. Adrenalized. UW associate head coach Greg Gard had another usage for the word prior to facing the Bears. “We’ll have to be very animated with the ball,’’ he said.
In compiling the scouting report on Baylor’s suffocating zone, which had already forced Nebraska and Creighton to tap out meekly, Gard kept coming back to something that the Badgers have been trained to do since the beginning of time, or Bo.
“In trying to get the defense to jump to open up a gap or to get them to freeze on what move they’re going to make,’’ Gard said, “we have to use ball fakes. We have to be deceptive, whether it’s with a pass fake or a shot fake.
“Typically zones are very pass oriented -- meaning they’re trying to read where the next pass is going so they can either intercept it or be on the move to close out (on the shooter). We have to over-accentuate our ball fakes and pass fakes.’’
In other words, Gard’s own words, the Badgers had to be animated with the ball against the physically-imposing Bears, whose length can be an intimidating element, most notably in the presence of shot-blockers like 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin and 6-9 Cory Jefferson.
“The nice thing is,’’ Gard said, “is that we don’t have to change a single thing we do. We’re not putting in passing drills and ball fakes and shot fakes this week. We’ve been doing that since Day One and our guys understand how important it is, and now it’s going to get magnified even more.’’
The No. 2-seeded Badgers are looking pretty good today under the NCAA magnifying glass, especially after advancing into an Elite Eight showdown Saturday against No. 1-seeded Arizona, a winner over San Diego State in other West Regional semifinal.
|“Throwing that first punch was a key to the start for us,” Dukan said. “Whether it was layups, baseline shots or 3s, we did a great job of executing.”
“We did a good job of getting the shots that we wanted to get,’’ said Traevon Jackson, who had a team-high five assists. “We didn’t settle; we knew that we could get 3s, but we wanted to get the ball inside and if it wasn’t there, then we’d kick it out.
“They have a lot of length and size, but I think we caught them off-guard a little bit because we attacked their zone. Most people just keep the ball on the outside and pass it back and forth. But we really attacked.’’
In executing their game plan to near perfection, the Badgers were lively, high-spirited, energetic, and most definitely animated, particularly after Rodgers joined them in the locker room and broke the team huddle.
“I was running through the tunnel and I saw him out of the corner of my eye and I went up and gave him a handshake and hug,’’ Josh Gasser said. “I’m a big fan, obviously.’’
Jackson did a double take. “I ran past him,’’ he said, “and looked and thought, ‘That’s Aaron Rodgers? Why are you so tan? You’re from Green Bay.’’’
Rodgers, a California native, had to be impressed with Wisconsin’s precision in carving up the Bears, who must have felt like they got run over by Eddie Lacy in the opening five minutes; at least their bewildered looks suggested as much.
“Throwing that first punch was a key to the start for us,’’ said Duje Dukan. “The biggest thing we stressed was passing the ball. Obviously against a zone, you want to keep it moving and get them out of position to create scoring opportunities.
“Whether it was layups, baseline shots or 3s, we did a great job of executing. It wasn’t that they were playing that bad, we just had great ball movement. But to get some of the open shots we got, when you think of their length, it was a little surprising.’’
The Badgers had 18 assists on 26 made baskets
“We never worry about who gets the shots,’’ said Dekker.
Every soft spot in the Baylor defense was exposed.
“They left the middle of the zone open a little bit,’’ said Kaminsky, who scored six of the first eight points and finished with a game-high 19, “and we were able to get the ball in there and get some easy baskets to the rim and some easy kick-outs for 3s.’’
The Badgers did make it look easy, much to the chagrin of Baylor coach Scott Drew.
“On film, I thought they were good, but I thought we’d cause a little more trouble inside, and we didn’t do that,’’ Drew said. “So credit (Nigel) Hayes and Kaminsky and those guys for doing a good job on the interior. That really hurt our defense.’’
Jefferson, who has been a dominant player for the Bears (25 career double-doubles, including 14 this season), couldn’t say enough good things about Kaminsky’s impact.
“He’s just a great player,’’ Jefferson said. “Obviously, he has a good skill set, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot it. He has multiple moves around the rim, so you try to block the first shot and he used another move and finishes. On the defensive end, he affected shots.’’
Kaminsky had a career-high six blocks. “He’s not usually a guy who’s going to do that,’’ Gasser said. “We don’t really teach that necessarily. But when Frank gets that opportunity to block a shot, he’s 7 feet tall and he’s always in good position. That’s what makes him a pretty good defender. He was able to be in the right spot at the right time.’’
Austin’s reputation as a shot blocker may have motivated Kaminsky. In the Big 12 tournament, Austin had 18 in four games. With 117 overall, he had 59 more than Kaminsky. Austin had been the talk of the regional. Kaminsky let his game do the talking.
And there was no question in Jackson’s mind that Austin’s presence inspired Kaminsky. “Absolutely,’’ he said, “I’d be motivated too if another guard was being talked about.’’
There’s a very good chance that the pundits will be talking about Arizona’s starting guards, T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson and Gabe York. They will also be talking about a former Pitt guard and UW grad assistant, Sean Miller, the Wildcats’ head coach.
Miller spent one season in Madison (1992-93) on Stu Jackson’s coaching staff, which also featured Ray McCallum and Stan Van Gundy. After running his own program at Xavier, the 45-year-old Miller has climbed into prominence at Arizona.
Gasser was asked Thursday if he felt that the convincing win over Baylor put Wisconsin basketball on the map. “That really doesn’t matter to us,’’ he said. “We’re happy to be still playing. If we’re in the Elite Eight, obviously we’re doing something right.
“The consistency that this program has had over the years is really remarkable,’’ Gasser continued. “How many programs have that? It’s great to keep on playing but we’re not satisfied.’’
Added Jackson, “The next 40 (minutes) is the only thing we can control now.’’