Kaminsky explodes onto national scene after carrying UW to Final Four

Wisconsin Badgers guard Traevon Jackson (left), forward Frank Kaminsky (center) and guard Josh Gasser celebrate after winning the West Region final against the Arizona Wildcats in overtime Saturday night.

Robert Hanashiro/Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The list of text messages had ballooned to nearly 100 on Frank Kaminsky’s cell phone late Saturday night. So many people wanted to offer their congratulations on a performance that had boosted Wisconsin to the Final Four and made a 7-foot center from Lisle, Ill., a nationally known character.

Kaminsky, meanwhile, barely had time to read the comments, save for a few Snapchat photos of friends celebrating downtown on State Street back in Madison.

"Looks like people are having fun out there," he said.

Wisconsin players were having just as much fun in a locker room nearly 2,000 miles away on Saturday. And Kaminsky’s play was, without question, the biggest reason for the celebration.

Kaminsky tallied 28 points and 11 rebounds to earn the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player Award during No. 2 seed Wisconsin’s 64-63 Elite Eight overtime victory against top-seeded Arizona. It marked the first double-double by a Wisconsin player in an NCAA tournament game since Marcus Landry did so (18 points, 10 rebounds) against Xavier in 2009.

"Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin’s in the Final Four," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "Kaminsky made some great plays. He’s a difficult match-up. Got to be one of the best offensive players who plays college basketball for sure."

Kaminsky’s match-up with Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski figured to be one of the most intriguing individual aspects of the game because each was so good at controlling the paint. But Kaminsky outshined Tarczewski, who finished with 12 points and four rebounds, by working on the perimeter against Arizona’s bigs and finding mismatches on forwards inside. His lay-in with 2:21 left in overtime gave Wisconsin a 61-59 lead it would not relinquish.

"Just wanted to do anything I could to make sure that we won that basketball game," Kaminsky said. "I personally wanted it really bad. I know every person on our team wanted it really bad, and we all wanted to do it for each other. So I was able to chip in my part, but it was a team effort out there tonight."

The 28 points scored by Kaminsky represented the second-most from a Wisconsin player in an NCAA tournament game, trailing only Michael Finley’s 36 points against Missouri on March 19, 1994. His 11 made field goals did set the program mark for an NCAA tournament game.

"Frank’s the man," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "He can score on anyone. I was talking at the free throw line with Kaleb. I’ve known him for a while. So we were talking on the court. I was like, ‘How awkward is Frank to guard?’ He was like, ‘Man, this kid is awkward. You never know what he’s going to do, but it’s effective.’

"Frank is a very effective player. We run our stuff through him for a reason because he’s so good. He’s been carrying us. No matter who it is, whoever has the hot hand, we’re going to go through him, and Frank carried us tonight."

At the start of this season, many assumed Dekker would take on the role as Wisconsin’s best player. But it was Kaminsky who emerged early, setting a single-game scoring record with 43 points against North Dakota in November and never relenting. He is the team’s leading scorer (14.1 points) and rebounder (6.4 boards) and also has three times as many blocks (64) as anyone else on the team.

In four NCAA tournament games, Kaminsky is averaging 18.5 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the field (30 for 55).

"Frank is awesome," Badgers guard Josh Gasser said. "He has gotten so much better. He’s so much more confident and aggressive. Everyone looks at his offensive game, but defensively he’s gotten so much better, too. The past couple games, he was a beast. He’s our best player. There’s no doubt about it."

Badgers coach Bo Ryan attributed Kaminsky’s improvement to hard work in the weight room and a continued desire to adhere to nutritional guides set forth by team trainers. Assistant coach Greg Gard, meanwhile, noted Kaminsky had become much more mentally tough.

"I think that’s the biggest thing with him," Gard said. "He likes contact. He likes dishing out contact. He’s better defensively because he plays more physically. He had the same post moves a year ago, but he wasn’t physical enough to embrace that part of the game enough to be able to do those types of things. And obviously he’s stronger. But now he’s got confidence through the roof."

Late Saturday night, with his back pressed against a wall in a tunnel inside the Honda Center, Kaminsky said his dad had called him "15 times," but the two hadn’t had a chance to connect. When they finally met, they would have a story to share for the rest of their lives.

"This is like nothing else I’ve ever felt before," Kaminsky said. "We’ve all played basketball our whole lives and we’ve all dreamed of going to the Final Four. To actually accomplish that is something I can’t put into words."

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