LOS ANGELES — With the game and shot clocks dwindling down due to Arizona’s decision to play out the possession despite trailing by five, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker knocked down a dagger of a three-pointer that sealed a second consecutive trip to the Final Four for Bo Ryan’s program. And what occurred on the next stoppage of play summed up the second half, and the season for Wisconsin.
After getting color commentator Reggie Miller’s attention, senior guard Josh Gasser pointed to Dekker and essentially said “stones.” Dekker’s performance was far too big for that designation however, as “boulders” along the lines of the dance Sam Cassell used to do in the NBA being a solid equivalent. Dekker scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half and Frank Kaminsky added 15 of his 29 to lead Wisconsin to the 85-78 win in the West regional final.
“Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] and Stanley [Johnson] are two physical, good defenders, but we as a team were able to get them into a little bit of foul trouble and that really helped,” Dekker said. “So that opened up the driving lines for myself, and Bronson got me some good looks from the outside and really got my shots going.
“So all in all, it was just a lot of confidence. I was put into a position to hit some shots and they were able to go down for me.”
Kaminsky’s performance came nearly one year to the day after torching the Wildcats for 28 points and 11 rebounds in Anaheim, and while his overall field goal percentage may not have been at the level it’s been throughout the season that was mostly because of what Arizona was able to do defensively in the first half.
While he did score 14 points Kaminsky shot 5-for-13 from the field in the first half, and as a team the Badgers made just under 39 percent of their shots. The second stanza was an entirely different story for Wisconsin as a whole, as they shot 15-for-19 from the field and 10-for-12 from beyond the arc. Kaminsky hit a three on the first possession of the second half, and from there he and his teammates had success knocking down shots.
“I was a little out of control in the first half, throwing up some wild shots, trying to play too fast, trying to make everything. Get a 10-point lead in one shot,” Kaminsky said. “So I just knew I had to calm down in the second half and work through my teammates and work within the offense and try to figure out what we needed to do to push out the lead.
“And I was able to get some stuff inside. I hit a three to start the second half,” the national Player of the Year candidate added. “So it was just one of those things where I was trying to make too many things happen in one possession. So I just had to play it possession by possession.”
Wisconsin averaged nearly 1.62 points per possession in the second half, and considering how well Arizona’s played defensively throughout the year that will go down as one of the best halves of basketball played by any team in the country this season. Wisconsin’s ball and player movement led to a number of looks that while challenged in most instances were of solid quality, and once the Badgers got rolling Arizona found itself chasing the game in spite of their own offensive success.
In Hollis-Jefferson the Wildcats have one of the best defenders in the country, and he was able to do a good job on both Dekker and Kaminsky whenever he had the opportunity to defend them. The problem: Arizona couldn’t clone the sophomore, as whoever wasn’t being defended by Hollis-Jefferson ended up going off in the second half.
And with Arizona having to go small late in an attempt to force turnovers, Hollis-Jefferson wound up defending Kaminsky with Dekker being the beneficiary.
“I thought Rondae was the one guy that really could guard any of them,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “We tried to figure out how he could get two of them to play. But there was only one of him, and the other guy that he wasn’t on went to work.
“And as we moved Rondae around, that guy will go quiet. But as he left one Wisconsin player, the other one would heat up. And Sam Dekker in the second half was spectacular.”
Arizona shot 55 percent from the field and 27-for-29 from the foul line, with Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley scoring 17 points apiece to lead the way. Unfortunately for Arizona there were too many frustrating possessions on the other end of the floor to make that effort count for anything in the end, as Wisconsin put together a second half shooting exhibition for the ages.
Leading the way was Dekker, who battled through a nagging ankle injury earlier in the season and in the last two games has stepped up in a big way for Wisconsin. Saturday evening the junior caught fire in the second half, putting forth a clutch performance that one of the sport’s all-time clutch performers in Reggie Miller had to respect.
“I said, ‘Sam’s got stones like you,'” Gasser said when asked of his exchange with Miller. “He laughed. He agreed with me. He gave me a good head nod.”