March 31, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was just one rebound, one of his team’s 38, one of his 431 career rebounds. But none may have been timelier than the rebound that Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser took away from Arizona’s 7-foot Kaleb Tarczewski and kept away from Nick Johnson during Saturday’s Elite Eight tug-of-war in Anaheim.
The Badgers were clinging to a 61-59 lead in the West Regional final when Johnson missed a layup with a little more than two minutes left in overtime. Protecting the defensive glass has always been a high priority, never more so than against the Wildcats, the top rebounding team in the Pac-12.
“I actually don’t know how I came out with that,” Gasser admitted. “I was just trying to bat it out of his hands (Tarczewski) and it somehow wound up in my hands and I just wasn’t going to let go.”
Gasser was fouled by Johnson. While covering up the ball like a fullback in a short-yardage situation, Gasser swung his elbows and he appeared to make contact with Johnson, which prompted the refereeing crew of Bryan Kersey, Tony Greene and Mike Eades to review the play on the TV monitor.
It would be the precursor of things to come.
“I was kind of nervous that they were going to call me for a flagrant; it’s two shots and the ball, and that’s a huge swing in close game like that,” Gasser said. “I didn’t think I hit him. But I wasn’t quite sure. I even asked Nick on the court if I did, and he said that I didn’t. That made me feel better about it.”
Upon further review, the officials didn’t see enough to call a flagrant. Gasser then made the front end of a bonus before missing the second free throw. Still, it gave the Badgers some much needed wiggle room; a 3-point lead, 62-59, that they would not relinquish to Arizona.
“Josh Gasser is tough as nails,” Ben Brust marveled. “I knew coming into this game that he was going to be a big part of this win, whether he scored or didn’t score. I knew he was going to contribute to helping us get this victory and that charge at the end really helped.”
Gasser had led the Badgers in taking charges this season with seven and he received credit for No. 8 after Johnson was called for using his left forearm to push off in order to gain separation from Gasser on a hard drive to the rim with three seconds remaining in a 64-63 game.
The Wildcats had a beef. But, then, so did the Badgers on the subsequent inbounds play. First of all, Sam Dekker was the inbounder and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon did not give him the required space. On the contrary, Gordon was standing out of bounds with Dekker. It went unnoticed.
Dekker’s intended pass to Traevon Jackson appeared to be deflected out of bounds by Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and that’s the way it was called on the floor. But it came under review, a lengthy review during which the officiating crew reportedly checked out as many as 14 different angles. Really?
“The longer the review went,” Gasser said, “the more positive I was that they were going to give them the ball. I kept saying in the huddle, ‘One stop, one stop. It doesn’t matter what they call, let’s just focus on getting a stop here.”’
Despite the lack of conclusive video evidence to reverse the call -- if they had some it logically wouldn’t have taken them that long to find it -- the officials awarded the ball to the Wildcats with 2.3 seconds remaining. “Coach (Bo) Ryan just said, ‘It’s time to D-up,”’ Dekker recalled.
So they did. Johnson unwittingly dribbled out the clock and never got a shot off in time. “We knew he was probably going to get the ball in his hands and try to make a play,” Gasser said. “He came off that double screen up top and Trae ended up taking him from there.”
Frank Kaminsky had Jackson’s back. “I knew that he (Johnson) was going to drive,” Jackson said during Saturday’s postgame news conference that included Gasser, Brust, Kaminsky and Ryan. “And I’m so thankful that Frank was back -- (turning to Kaminsky) -- that was you in the back, right?”
That was him. On this night, Kaminsky had everybody’s back.
“Frank Kaminsky,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, “is the reason Wisconsin’s in the Final Four.”
• • • •
After rejoining in his teammates in the locker room following the formal media interrogation, Kaminsky repeated, “It feels like I won the lottery but 10 times better.” But he also said that the Badgers were merely “trying to do anything we can do to win.” It was his way of explaining his double-double.
“It was just the way the game went, just the way the game worked out, and we were able to take advantage of it,” said Kaminsky, who scored a majority of his points on Tarczewski. “I try not to look at it as if there’s one guy I’m going to go after if I can and try to shoot it every time.
“I know my teammates were looking to get me the ball.”
|“Who hasn’t dreamed about this as a basketball player?” Dekker asked. “This is where you want to get; this is why you come to a school like this -- because you want to help them get to a Final Four and win a national championship, and we’re one step closer.”
Why not? Jackson saw something in Kaminsky, something in his makeup. The same something that he saw at Michigan when Kaminsky scored 25 points. “We had to keep going back to him,” Jackson said. “It was one of those nights where he was just like, ‘Give me the ball.’ He was hitting everything.”
Brust saw “beast mode” in Kaminsky. “When you have a guy like Frank who’s such a dual threat -- who can really finish on the inside and step out from the outside -- it really helps open up things for all of us,” he said. “He’s a beast and I’m very proud of him.”
Arizona simply didn’t have a matchup for Kaminsky. Few teams have.
“He put us on his back, there was no doubt about that,” said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. “He’s just matured so much. Everyone talks about the evolution of his game. But I’ve watched him mature from a kid to a man.
“The footwork has always been there. The moves have always been there. And he has worked on them. But the biggest thing with Frank is that he has matured mentally. He has grown up. He’s a man now and he can handle adversity. When things don’t go well, he doesn’t hang his head or sulk and pout.
“He moves on to the next play.”
Next. It’s something that this team wears proudly on its back -- the back collar of its uniforms. Next. It’s something that Ryan has always preached. Next. The Badgers will play Kentucky next in the Final Four, Ryan’s first as a coach -- and first without his father, Butch, who passed away last September.
“Aside from another 40 minutes and a chance to win a national championship, I just think he was overwhelmed with what it meant to his dad,” Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris said of Ryan. “For his family, there were tears and emotion.”
All of the Ryan family was present in Anaheim when Bo Ryan cut down the nets. One of his sons, Will Ryan, now an assistant at North Dakota State, was in the locker room after the game with his own young son. Will had been around his dad on championship teams at Platteville.
“It brought back some good memories,” he said. “But to do it on this stage and to see what these guys have accomplished and what he has accomplished -- with my grandparents passing away -- is the culmination of it all and it’s very special.”
Will Ryan figured that Butch Ryan had an “upper deck” seat for Saturday’s game.
“I was joking during the game, ‘Butch is upstairs, he’s messing with us right now,”’ Will said. “With maybe a few calls that didn’t go our way in the first half, and overtime, and with all of the stuff that was going on at the end with the out of bounds and delay of game, I’m like, ‘Yup, that’s Butch.”’
Six months ago, Zach Bohannon was one of the players that flew to Pennsylvania and attended a memorial service for Butch Ryan. “I think that Coach Ryan knew in the back of his mind,” Bohannon said, “that regardless of what happened this season that he was going to the Final Four with Pops.”
Butch Ryan would have turned 90 last Saturday. “We’re the type of team to believe in some of those supernatural things,” Bohannon said. “We know somehow Butch is looking down on us and he’ll be there in the Final Four with Coach.”
The first question that Bo Ryan fielded after the Arizona win was on his dad.
“He was always about the kids that he helped mentor growing up and, you know, that’s why I do it,” he said. “I can remember some of the great teams that we had and their first championships and how they acted and just the joy (within his players) … that’s what I wanted to see (from this team).”
Bo Ryan was mentored by Butch Ryan.
“I never let Bo win at anything -- not at Ping-Pong, not at checkers, not at pool, not even when we played Cowboys and Indians,” Butch Ryan once told me. “And when I coached him, I was harder on him than anyone on the team. Believe me, when I tell you that.”
Sam Dekker can probably believe that. Ryan can be hard on his players.
“Coach is such a great competitor,” Dekker respectfully acknowledged. “As a player, you may not always agree with everything he does. He may say some things that you just don’t understand. But, at the end of the day, it works and he’s a winner.
“People were saying that he never got to a Final Four. Well, here he is, another stepping stone in the great coaching career that he has had. I’m so proud of our coach, I’m so proud of our guys. Who hasn’t dreamed about this as a basketball player?
“This is where you want to get; this is why you come to a school like this -- because you want to help them get to a Final Four and win a national championship, and we’re one step closer.”
Moments after the final horn sounded Saturday night at the Honda Center, Brust plopped onto a courtside table, put on some headsets and did a short radio interview. In the midst of it, Jackson came over and hugged Brust. He also whispered into his ear, “Two more.”
Brust nodded approvingly and smiled.