MADISON, Wis. — When Frank Kaminsky arrived as a freshman at Wisconsin two years ago, he much preferred shooting a 3-pointer to banging in the post. The perimeter is not where you’d expect to find most 7-footers, and though Kaminsky’s shooting touch was better than most, having an inside presence was an area he needed to improve to become an elite Big Ten big man.
Much of that advancement could only be achieved with confidence, maturity and increased strength, which required time. And the time, it appears, is now, with Kaminsky starting for the first time in his college career as a junior.
Consider that, as a freshman, 62.5 percent of Kaminsky’s shots came from beyond the arc. As a sophomore, the mark was 45.9 percent. This season, he is taking only 25.5 percent of his shots from 3. Kaminsky’s overall field goal percentage has increased each season. He is shooting 54.8 percent from the field this year and averaging 13.3 points with 6.3 rebounds.
Over the past two games, Kaminsky has tallied 46 points and 18 rebounds while shooting 59.4 percent from the field (19 of 32). And he will try to keep his hot streak going when No. 14 Wisconsin (22-5, 9-5 Big Ten) plays host to Indiana (15-11, 5-8) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Indiana coach Tom Crean said Kaminsky’s driving ability has dramatically improved, even since the teams met last month during Indiana’s 75-72 upset victory. In that game, Kaminsky recorded 11 points and nine rebounds.
"He’s literally taking the ball from the 3-point line and getting all the way to the basket," Crean said. "The shooting is there. The post-up is there, without question. But the driving game is something that obviously they’re spending a lot of time on. . . . The isolation and drives are a huge part of it, and I think that’s where Frank is scoring a lot of points lately."
Kaminsky’s improved footwork and skills at the basket were on display Sunday, when he scored on a pick and roll to the hoop with 37.1 seconds left off a pass from teammate Josh Gasser. The bucket gave Wisconsin a one-point lead in an eventual 79-74 victory against Iowa.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan noted Kaminsky’s development could be attributed, in part, to not hanging his head when things don’t go well and better absorbing feedback from coaches. And teammates have taken note of the increased output. This season, Kaminsky has increased his scoring average by 9.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
"He just needs to keep staying confident, keep playing," Gasser said. "He knows how good he is. We know how good he is. He’s such a big piece to our team. I think these past couple of games, he’s seen that.
"When he’s playing well, when he’s being aggressive and attacking the basket, we’re a lot better team. It’s hard to stop us because we’ve got guys who can shoot on the perimeter and then when he’s on the block making plays, he’s almost forcing double teams. And when he does that, we’ll knock them down from the outside. When Frank is playing well, we’re playing well."
Title talk: Wisconsin’s five-game conference winning streak has put the Badgers in position to challenge for the Big Ten regular-season title with four games remaining. UW is in third place at 9-5, two full games behind Michigan and 1 1/2 games behind Michigan State.
"Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot we can control," Gasser said. "We’re not controlling our own destiny. We put ourselves in this position. But all we can do is take it one game at a time. We’re focused on Indiana. If we take care of business, hopefully some things happen on the other end with some other teams. Ultimately, we’re just focusing on ourselves and what we can do to get ourselves better come tournament time and hopefully give ourselves the best seed possible."
Poll update: Wisconsin moved up two spots to No. 14 in this week’s Associated Press Top-25 poll, released Monday. The Badgers are also No. 14 in the coaches poll, up four spots from the previous week. UW is the highest-ranked Big Ten team in either poll.
In the latest edition of ESPN.com-analyst Joe Lunardi’s NCAA tournament bracket projections, Wisconsin is a No. 2 seed playing No. 15 Vermont in Milwaukee. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm also has Wisconsin as a No. 2 seed in Milwaukee against No. 15 North Carolina Central. The Badgers remained No. 5 in the Ratings Percentage Index, behind Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Villanova.