ARLINGTON, Texas — Last Saturday night Wisconsin junior center Frank Kaminsky proved to be the one matchup No. 1 Arizona had no answer for, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the Badgers’ one-point win in the West regional final. And with No. 7 Kentucky forced to play without the injured Willie Cauley-Stein in Saturday’s national semifinal, many wondered if this would be the case for the Midwest Region champions as well.
However that would not be the case, with John Calipari utilizing multiple defenders to limit Kaminsky to eight points on 4-for-7 shooting in Kentucky’s 74-73 victory.
Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle and even Alex Poythress saw time defending the versatile big man, and they were able to limit the comfortable areas in which Kaminsky got his offensive touches. This was a much better defensive effort than the one Kaminsky saw last weekend, with Arizona able to go with just two different options in Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon.
“I thought Dakari could play him some,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said of his freshman center. “Dakari could put that big body on him a little bit. Then we wanted to play all kinds of different people on him. We wanted Alex to guard him some, we wanted Julius to guard him some.”
In addition to the use of multiple options in defending Kaminsky, Kentucky also switched the pick-and-pop situations in which the center’s been so lethal this season. As was the case in Wisconsin’s win over Baylor, Kaminsky didn’t attempt a three-pointer against Kentucky. However that Sweet 16 victory was also a game in which he made eight of his 11 shots from the field. He would have no such luck against the Wildcats.
Scoring in the paint was an issue for Wisconsin as a whole Saturday night, as they were outscored by Kentucky 46-24. That can’t be placed on Kaminsky alone, and to make that leap would be unfair as Nigel Hayes (two points, two rebounds) also struggled against Kentucky’s front court length. As a result of that length and athleticism the Badgers were unable to consistently find opportunities in the paint on offense, and they struggled to keep the Wildcats out of the lane on the other end.
“We just did not make enough plays on the inside,” Kaminsky said after the game. “Kentucky was able to get things that we were not giving up this entire tournament. It just sucks that it happened at this time on the biggest stage.
“We would have liked to have set the tone physically more but we didn’t, and they came out on top.”
The two plays that will receive the majority of the attention when discussing Saturday’s game are Aaron Harrison’s made three-pointer with 5.7 seconds remaining and Traevon Jackson’s miss just before time expired. But in a game decided by a single point, there are a number of spots within the contest that impact the outcome. And for a team that is expected to lose just one starter in guard Ben Brust, the tough end to what was an impressive season will serve as a catalyst for the 2014-15 edition of the Wisconsin Badgers.
Kaminsky, who improved by leaps and bounds from his sophomore season to 2013-14, stated following the game that he’ll be back for his senior season and Sam Dekker did the same with regards to his junior campaign. They’ll get better this offseason, as will Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig and the other rotation players who have eligibility remaining.
With this being the case, the expectation for Wisconsin is a simple one: to reach this point in hopes of scripting a more satisfying conclusion.
“This is a sour taste,” Kaminsky said. “We are going to be back next year. We are going to be better than ever. We will all be ready. It’s going to be a long road to get back here, but I know we will make it.”