Badgers heading to Final Four
ANAHEIM, Calif.—Every big shot Wisconsin needed, Frank Kaminsky hit.
The 7-footer carried Wisconsin to the Final Four with 28 points, including six in overtime, as the Badgers defeated Arizona 64-63 in a physical West Region final Saturday night.
Kaminsky had 11 rebounds and scored from inside and outside, including three 3-pointers, for the No. 2 seed Badgers (30-7). It’s Wisconsin’s first Final Four appearance since 2000, and first for 69-year-old coach Bo Ryan, who earned his 704th career victory.
“We want a national championship now,” Kaminsky said. “We have made it to the opportunity to get there, so why not go get it?”
Ryan had a long tradition of attending the Final Four as a spectator with his father, who died in August.
“Today would have been my dad’s 90th birthday,” he said. “I just thought I’d throw that in.”
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers joined the locker room celebration, telling the Badgers he’d been following them all season.
Kaminsky proved the only reliable scorer on a night when the rest of the Badgers disappeared offensively. Sam Dekker was 2 for 5, Ben Brust went 2 for 7, Traevon Jackson was 4 of 14 and Nigel Hayes was 2 of 8.
“Their big guy really had a great game,” Arizona’s Nick Johnson said. “He raised his level.”
Johnson had the ball with a chance to win, but he missed a shot that launched just after the buzzer for Arizona (33-5), the top-seeded team that has yet to win a West Region final in Anaheim in four tries. Johnson led the Wildcats with 16 points, and Aaron Gordon had 18 rebounds in the relentlessly physical game.
It was the record-tying seventh OT game of this year’s tournament.
Johnson stood with his hands on his hips, staring straight ahead, while Kaminsky and the rest of the Badgers rushed to celebrate.
“I wish I would have taken one less dribble, get the shot off, give us a little chance,” Johnson said.
Jackson added 10 points for the Badgers, and Kaminsky was chosen as most outstanding player of the West Region, part of a breakout season for the junior with the deadpan sense of humor.
“They tell me he’s funnier that he used to be, and his eyes are more wide open now,” Ryan said. “If you see him sitting sometimes you think, ‘Oh, look, Frank’s asleep.’ He’s not asleep. But he’s got that sleepy look.”
Kaleb Tarczewski scored 12 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 10 points for the Wildcats, who were trying to get coach Sean Miller to the Final Four for his first time. Instead, Miller was sent to the sidelines on the same day his younger brother Archie’s Dayton Flyers lost to Florida in the South Region final.
“When you lose, it’s like a car crashes,” Miller said. “It’s just—you’re done.”
The first 40 minutes were a back-and-forth struggle between the only 1-2 seeds remaining in the regionals, with neither team leading by more than three points over the final 12:09 of regulation.
Overtime was even more dramatic, with Arizona having an answer for just about everything Wisconsin did.
Brust hit a 3-pointer to put the Badgers up at the start of the extra session; Gordon answered with a 3 to tie it up again at 57. Kaminsky scored inside and Gordon dunked at the other end for another tie.
Kaminsky’s jumper and a free throw by Josh Gasser gave Wisconsin a 62-59 lead. Tarczewski’s two free throws and Jordin Mayes’ tip-in drew the Wildcats to 64-63 with 58 seconds left.
T. J. McConnell’s jumper missed, but Arizona got the offensive rebound and found Johnson, who missed and got called for the push-off on Gasser with 3 seconds left.
“I thought it was a really, really tough call,” Miller said. “I’m going to stop there. I’ve already been fined.”
Wisconsin inbounded on the baseline, and a scramble ensued in front of Arizona’s bench with 2 seconds left. The initial call gave the ball to the Badgers. The referees viewed replays for several minutes before deciding Wisconsin touched the ball last.
“It was the longest minutes of my life,” Hayes said.
Ryan said, “Mainly we spent most of it knowing that it wasn’t going to be our ball.”
That call set up the final play, with Pac-12 player of the year Johnson unable to bail out the Wildcats.
“I knew he wasn’t going to pass it with only two seconds on the clock,” Gasser said. “It was a good battle out there, and fortunately, he didn’t make a play there.”