Even with the losses in the front court from last season’s team, Frank Kaminsky’s name didn’t come up all too often when prognosticators discussed the Wisconsin Badgers before the start of the 2013-14 season. And based upon Kaminsky’s production in his first two seasons in Madison, that’s understandable.
After averaging 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, the 7-footer raised his scoring to 4.2 points per contest as a sophomore. And while the presence of Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans needs to be noted with regards to the low average, it would be understandable if most didn’t expect Kaminsky to become one of the country’s best inside-out big men. However that’s been the case this season, and Kaminsky’s performance in the Badgers’ 64-63 win over No. 1 Arizona was simply the latest standout performance in what has been an outstanding junior campaign.
Kaminsky was the one matchup Arizona, arguably the best defensive team in the country, struggled to find an answer for as he scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Kaminsky made 11 of his 20 shots from the field, which included a 3-for-5 night from beyond the arc.
When defended by Arizona’s 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski the junior was able to use his perimeter skills, either knocking down jumpers or on a few occasions taking the ball to the basket. Arizona’s hope early on was that Tarczewski, who struggled with foul trouble in their win over San Diego State, would be able to defend Kaminsky without needing help.
When that strategy didn’t work Arizona went small, having the ultra-athletic Aaron Gordon move to the center position and defend Kaminsky. But as the game progressed, there was an issue with this as well.
Deciding to switch all ball screens when they went small, Arizona ended up with a guard defending Kaminsky on multiple occasions. And while Wisconsin didn’t alway throw Kaminsky the ball in the post when this occurred, they were able to attack the Arizona defense off the dribble. Wisconsin shot just 39.3% from the field on the night, but the presence of Kaminsky resulted in the Badgers scoring 1.05 points per possession.
And while that number may not seem all that impressive, the opposition must be considered. Arizona allowed more than 1.05 points per possession in just four other games this season, with two being against UCLA. With few opportunities to truly expose Arizona, it was vitally important that Wisconsin take advantage of the one matchup that fell in their favor. That matchup was Kaminsky, a development few thought possible back in October.
That’s a credit to Bo Ryan and the coaching staff as well as Kaminsky’s teammates, but the biggest key is Kaminsky himself. Faced with the challenge of helping Wisconsin account for the loss of Berggren and Evans, the junior stepped up. And as a result of Kaminsky’s hard work, Wisconsin will make its first Final Four appearance since 2000.