MADISON, Wis. — There are those 7-foot centers whose decisions to fire up a 3-pointer cause an entire fan base to hold its breath, for no other reason than because he has zero business patrolling the perimeter. Ever.
Then there is Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, whose smooth shooting touch is both rare and lethal for a player his size. Fans instead hold their breath primarily because they’re waiting to explode at the sight of another swish. And though his shots haven’t consistently found the net in previous seasons, Kaminsky showed Tuesday night why opponents should fear his stroke.
The Badgers’ 7-foot junior buried all six of his 3-point attempts and didn’t stop there, breaking the school’s single-game scoring record with an astounding 43 points. In the process, he helped No. 12 Wisconsin escape pesky North Dakota 103-85 at the Kohl Center in an unexpectedly entertaining November nonconference game.
Kaminsky eclipsed the record of 42 points previously shared by Michael Finley (1994 against Eastern Michigan) and Ken Barnes (1965 against Indiana) on a driving bucket in the lane with 1:14 remaining in the game, drawing a standing ovation from the Kohl Center crowd. He finished the game 16 of 19 from the field, including that perfect 6 for 6 from behind the arc, to account for the highest single-game scoring output for any Division I player this season.
Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson said he knew Kaminsky was in for a special night early in the game.
“I was on the wing, and I was open for a pass,” Jackson said. “And Frank shot it because he was open, too. It was a good shot regardless. And I looked at him and said, ‘One more.’ He said, ‘No, I’m feeling it.’ Then he came down and he never says this, but he came down and he said, ‘Hey run this play for me.’ And he never says that. So it was sweet to see that. I was happy for him.”
Kaminsky said he, too, recognized shots were falling early and often. His first 3-pointer put Wisconsin ahead 7-4 three minutes into the game. Later, he buried consecutive 3s in the span of 21 seconds to turn a one-point lead into a 31-24 edge with 8:18 remaining in the half, prompting North Dakota to call a timeout.
“It’s a great feeling,” Kaminsky said. “As a basketball player, you want every shot to go in. When most of them are going in, it’s going to feel great. I can’t really describe it. It’s an awesome feeling. Looking back on the game now and being able to see the stats and everything, it was an awesome game.”
Kaminsky’s previous scoring best in college was 19 points, set against Illinois last season. But he passed that mark in the first half on Tuesday. The native of Lisle, Ill., entered halftime 7 of 8 from the field and 4 for 4 on 3-point tries, with 21 points.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, needed every bit of Kaminsky’s first-half production to offset the incredible shooting performance of North Dakota guard Troy Huff. Huff put on a first-half show, scoring 26 points of his 37 total points, and Wisconsin took a 55-45 halftime lead.
There were bound to be dominant games during the nonconference season for Kaminsky, who is taller than any player on most mid-major teams’ rosters. North Dakota’s tallest player was 6-10 junior Ryan Salmonson, who played only 16 minutes. Most of the time, there wasn’t a player taller than 6-7 on the floor for North Dakota, and Kaminsky made the team pay several times on shot fakes and drives to the hoop.
Still, no one could have foreseen a game quite like this.
Kaminsky entered the night a career 31.0 percent 3-point shooter, though he had shown glimpses of his touch in other games. He had never scored more than 39 points even in high school and entering Tuesday, Kaminsky had scored a total of 26 points in Wisconsin’s first three games. Twice last season, Wisconsin scored 43 points in a game as a team.
“In the first half, they kind of let him roam the 3-point line, which was stupid,” said Badgers forward Sam Dekker, who scored a season-best 19 points as a footnote to Kaminsky’s night. “We drove and kicked, and we found him. He was spotting up and hit it. . . .
“Credit him for all that. He was scoring back to the basket, face-ups, 3-point shots. He was really feeling it tonight, and you’ve just got to keep feeding the hot hand.”
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said he had no idea Kaminsky was on the verge of history late in the game. Instead, it was his players on the bench that pleaded with Ryan to allow him to re-enter the game while stuck on 41 points as the student section chanted, “We want Frank.” Kaminsky exited the contest with 2:03 remaining when Evan Anderson subbed in for him, drawing a chorus of boos. But he returned with 1:27 left with one chance to make history.
Ryan said he thought back to his days as a player at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania in 1969 during a game in which he had 43 points and was pulled with four minutes remaining, just shy of the school’s single-game scoring record.
“My dad held a grudge against my college coach since 1969,” Ryan said of his father, Butch, who passed away at age 89 this year.
“So I thought about Frank’s folks. I’m serious. I thought about his folks. I thought about his friends. And it wasn’t like it was a 40-point game. So one more possession. That’s all I said. If the team didn’t get him the ball, that was it. And guess what? They got him the ball.”
Kaminsky came out of the game for a final time after his basket. With 1:04 remaining, his record night was announced over the public address system, drawing one more standing ovation from the crowd of 16,653 people.
In the locker room afterward, Ryan — ever the stickler for team play — still found time to razz Kaminsky for not recording a single assist.
“I said sorry,” Kaminsky said, “but I didn’t mean it.”
On a record-breaking scoring night, Kaminsky could be forgiven.