When Frank Kaminsky got smacked in the face and went down on the court, Wisconsin fans might have been nervous, but his teammates weren’t.
Kaminsky wasn’t having one of his usual impressive, dominant, workmanlike games in the NCAA tournament’s west regional Thursday. He sat, head in hands, on the Staples Center court while a trainer tended to him during a timeout.
He walked to the bench under his own power and didn’t rejoin his teammates until after a brief rest.
Wisconsin was better for it.
Sam Dekker was having a game and finished with 23 points, and Josh Gasser blanketed North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, holding him to 12 points as the top-seeded Badgers rallied for a 79-72 win. They will play Arizona on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET for a trip to the Final Four.
Kaminsky missed two layups to start the game and struggled out of the gate, going 2 for 7 for four points in the first half, but Dekker made 6 of 8 shots and had 15 points as North Carolina led 33-31 at halftime.
"This is my last go around and I wanted to give it everything I had in the second half."
- Frank Kaminsky
However, Kaminsky and his teammates came through in the clutch. Wisconsin was unfazed by a five-point deficit with 2:03 left. Been there, done that.
Kaminsky scored 15 in the second half and made all four of his free throw attempts in the final 16 seconds. He finished 8 for 8 from the line.
"I don’t get frustrated," Kaminsky said. "Sam had a great first half and really kept us in that game. Without Sam out there getting buckets … he had that tip-in to end the first half and that really helped us. I just knew coming out in the second half that I had to be aggressive and try to open things up for my teammates, and I was able to do so."
When a reporter asked a teammate about Kaminsky being poked in the eye, the 6-foot-11 forward turned to Dekker and seemed to say: "I was poked in the eye?"
He was hit in the face by an elbow but who remembers that stuff in victory?
Everyone at Wisconsin plays second fiddle to "Frank the Tank," so when guard Josh Gasser was asked if Kaminsky inspired the rest of the Badgers, Gasser joked: "It was great to see you on the floor, Frank," and smiled at Kaminsky, who was sitting next to him in the postgame interview session.
"I like playing with Frank. He’s a pretty good player," Gasser said. "But the thing with us is that we’re not defined by one player. Sorry, Frank. We’ve got good guys who can come back in and contribute. I knew Frank was going to come back in. He just needed to rest for a minute.
"That just shows the balance and depth of our team as different guys can step up in different moments."
Wisconsin has such fun, from press conferences admiring the stenographer’s work to its ability to collectively keep its composure, even when North Carolina seemed to have Wisconsin on its heels.
"There was a sense of urgency, definitely, while we were out there," Kaminsky said. "We knew we needed to go out there and get stops and make a run. But there really is nothing you can say in that situation to each other, other than to go out there and do it, like Josh said. We don’t need to get in each other’s faces.
"We just know how to stay calm. We’re a veteran group. We understand situations, and we’ve been through a lot as a group. We know what it takes to win games like that at the end. We were just going out there and having fun and trying to do whatever we could to win."