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UW advances to Final Four

final-four

Photos by Robert Gauthier/MCT

Wisconsin players Traevon Jackson (12) and Frank Kaminsky (44) celebrate with teammates after time expired in overtime March 29 in the regional semifinal. Wisconsin won 64-63.

Marques Eversoll , Sports Editor, Commentary
April 1, 2014
Filed under Sports, Top Stories

Led by junior Frank Kaminsky’s 28 points and 11 rebounds, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2000 by defeating No. 1 seed Arizona 64-63 in overtime March 29.

“Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin’s in the Final Four,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the Badgers’ 7-foot junior, according to USA Today.

Arizona had no answer for Kaminsky in the biggest game of the season. He was a dominant force on both ends, scoring inside and outside and grabbing seven offensive rebounds in a season-high 37 minutes.

It’s been a special season for Kaminsky who has come a long way in three years. He played seven minutes a game as a freshman and 10 minutes as a sophomore. As a junior, Kaminsky is playing 27 minutes per game and leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.1 points and 6.4 boards.

But as special as this year has been for Kaminsky, the Final Four tastes even sweeter for head coach Bo Ryan.

Since being hired in 2001, Ryan has led Wisconsin to three regular-season Big Ten championships. Ryan won four national championships at UW-Platteville, but he never advanced beyond the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament at the Division I level.

When the clock struck zero on the five-minute overtime period in the regional final, Wisconsin outscored Arizona by one point and Ryan punched his ticket to his first Final Four in 13 seasons at the school.

“That was kind of the knock on him,” freshman guard Bronson Koenig said. “What can they say now?”

Dick Bennett, the coach at UW-Green Bay for 10 seasons from 1985-1995, led the Badgers on an improbable Final Four run as a No. 8 seed in the 1999-2000 season. Wisconsin’s only other Final Four came in 1941 when the school won its lone National Championship to date.

Wisconsin would have to battle back against Arizona to advance. The Wildcats led by as many as eight in the first half, but the Badgers closed the gap to three by halftime, trailing 28-25.

Five minutes into the second half, Koenig gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game with a jumper, giving the Badgers a 36-34 advantage. Two minutes later, Koenig hit a triple to set the score at 41-36, Wisconsin’s largest lead of the game.

Since Koenig’s three-point shot, the Badgers went more than eight minutes without a field goal. Wisconsin’s defense kept them in the game, as Arizona was unable to create separation despite the Badgers’ cold streak.

With the game tied at 54 with 30.9 seconds remaining, Ryan called a timeout and told his team to hold the ball for one shot. Junior guard Traevon Jackson, who scored 10 points on the night, dribbled the clock down and missed a jumper in the closing seconds.

The score was tied after 40 minutes, sending Wisconsin and Arizona to overtime.

Wisconsin senior Ben Brust got the Badgers to a fast start with a three-point jumper just more than a minute into overtime, but Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon answered Brust’s triple on the ensuing possession.

The teams exchanged blows over the next few minutes until things got even more interesting in the closing seconds.

Arizona guard Nick Johnson was whistled for an offensive foul with 3.2 seconds to play. Inbounding the ball for Wisconsin, sophomore Sam Dekker fired a bounce pass in the direction of Jackson. The ball deflected out of bounds and was ruled out on Arizona, granting possession to Wisconsin.

After a lengthy review, the officials reversed the call and gave the ball to the Wildcats with 2.3 seconds on the clock. Johnson handled the in-bounds pass, took three dribbles to his left and failed to get a shot off before time expired.

The Badgers sprinted toward their bench to celebrate. Their ticket was punched to Dallas.

It’s been quite the season for the Badgers, who started the season 16-0 before dropping their first game Jan. 14 at Indiana. The loss sparked a stretch where Wisconsin would lose five of six games, leaving them at 17-5 on the season.

After rattling off eight straight wins, the Badgers dropped their regular-season finale March 9 at Nebraska and fell to Michigan State 83-75 March 15 in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Their 26-7 overall record was enough to earn them a No. 2 seed in the West region, including a first-round game in Milwaukee. The Badgers routed American in the Round of 64 and came back to beat Oregon in the Round of 32 to earn a trip to Anaheim, Calif.

Wisconsin has undergone a change in philosophy this season. They won a game with 48 points Dec. 4 against eventual ACC champion Virginia. They’ve won games scoring in the 50s through the 90s, and they eclipsed the 100-point mark with a 103-85 win over North Dakota, in which Kaminsky set a school record with 43 points.

“This is known as a defensive program that slows the ball down on offense,” Kaminsky said. “We wanted to put a little of our brand on it. … I think it’s showing with this run we’ve had in the tournament.”

In its four tournament games, Wisconsin is averaging 73.2 points per game and holding opponents to 56.7. They’ve won easily, including a 40-point blowout over No. 15 seed American, and they’ve won close, narrowly edging Arizona in perhaps the best game of the tournament.

The Badgers are capable of winning in a multitude of ways, and they’ll certainly be tested when they meet Kentucky and coach John Calipari in the national semifinals.

“We want a national championship now,” Kaminsky said. “We have made it to the opportunity to get there, so why not go get it?”