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MADISON - In the minutes following Wisconsin’s difficult nonconference road win at Green Bay, Saturday junior guard Josh Gasser told a small group of media members that the Badgers will need Frank Kaminsky’s production all season long if they want to be successful.
That wasn’t just lip service, a fact reinforced during a historic night at the Kohl Center.
In a program that has produced standout offensive players like Brian Butch, Michael Finley, Devin Harris, Jordan Taylor, Alando Tucker, Tracy Webster and many others, Kaminsky did something that no other Wisconsin basketball player has ever done – score 43 points in a game.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Kaminsky, whose point production helped the Badgers distance itself from a pesky North Dakota squad to earn a 103-85 victory Tuesday night. “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 at the game now and looking at the stats.
Kaminsky’s left-handed layup with 1:13 remaining set a new scoring record, surpassing the 42 points Ken Barnes scored against Indiana in March 1965 and that was later equaled by Finley at Eastern Michigan in December 1994. Both of those, however, came in a losing effort.
The 18-point victory for Wisconsin (4-0) was just four shy of the combined total of Wisconsin’s first three wins and put Wisconsin over 100 points for the first time since scoring 105 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 28, 1995.
Kaminsky’s stat line is hard to accomplish even when playing on the easy level in a basketball video game. He finished 16-for-19 overall, 6-for-6 from 3-point range and 5-for-6 from the free throw line. He also added three rebounds, one steal and no turnovers.
“He was scoring back to the basket, face ups, 3-point shots, he was really feeling it tonight,” said Sam Dekker. “You just have to keep feeding the hot hand.”
Kaminsky overshadowed a lot of good performances for Wisconsin, including Dekker’s season-high 19 points, four assists and one turnover and Traevon Jackson’s 14 points, eight assists and one turnover. Of the duo’s 12 combined assists, eight went to Kaminsky, resulting in 21 points and helping Wisconsin shoot 59.3 percent (35-for-59) and 60 percent (12-for-20) from the perimeter.
“All of that helps puts Frank in that position to be the recipient,” said UW coach Bo Ryan.
In hindsight, Kaminsky almost had to settle for 41 points. Put back in the game at the three minute mark, Kaminsky didn’t touch the ball on either of the next two possessions before Evan Anderson subbed him out with 2:03 remaining, causing the 16,653 in attendance to start booing.
“I had no idea I was close to a record,” said Kaminsky. “I was kind of curious why he kept taking me out and putting me back in.”
According to Ryan, he was not aware of how close Kaminsky was to the scoring mark until his bench players began pleading with him to give Kaminsky more possessions. As his players pleaded, Ryan recalled what happened when he himself was the exact situation 52 years ago.
“My dad held a grudge against my college coach, since 1969, because yours truly had 43 points and the record from a guy from Temple was like 50 points,” said Ryan. “With four minutes to go, I come out of the game and I had to listen to my dad all those years and when he got around (Coach Ron) Rainey (and said) ‘Why didn’t you leave the boy in?’ I really didn’t care, so I thought about Frank’s folks, I thought about his friends.
“So ‘One more possession’ is all I said. If the team didn’t get him the ball, that was it. Guess what? They got him the ball.”
Ryan inserted Kaminsky back into the lineup with 1:25 remaining, and the rest was history, as Kaminsky drove the lane after getting the assist from Bronson Koenig.
“He just keeps working,” Ryan said of Kaminsky. “It’s not going to happen every night, but his consistency of being that threat, of being that post threat and being a stretch threat, makes him valuable on the offensive end.”
After a week of grind-them-out resume builders, this was supposed to be the start of a stretch where Wisconsin could finally enjoy a couple comfortable victories at home with three mid-major opponents on the upcoming home stand. It turned out to be just the opposite, and could have been much worse if Kaminsky wasn’t making everything in sight.
After scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting to lead UW over Green Bay in the second half, Kaminsky stayed hot and kept the Badgers afloat in the first half by setting a new career high just 12:50 into the game. There was a lot more to come.
“When those first couple of shots went in, I kind of said to myself, ‘I’m feeling it,’” said Kaminsky, whose previous career-high at any level was 39 back at Benet Academy in Illinois. “I think I said it to Trae once on the court. I just kept shooting and they kept going in.”
Kaminsky shot 7-for-8 in the first half but the Badgers led by only 10 at halftime based off the rest of Wisconsin shooting 10-for-21 and the Badgers struggled defensively against their opponent’s top defensive option for the second time in four days.
Senior guard Troy Huff scored 26 of his team-high 37 points in the first half and pulled down nine rebounds. Huff is the son of Hall of Famer Theresa Huff, the leading rebounder in Wisconsin women’s basketball history and the only UW basketball player, male or female, to have her number retired.
Huff’s performance follows Wisconsin struggling to contain Green Bay junior guard Keifer Sykes, who scored 32 points on 13-for-26 and came within an inch of forcing overtime.
“There were a couple of screening situation that exposed a lack of experience, not reading and reacting to one another,” said Ryan. “They aren’t quite there yet.”
That can’t be said about the offense, which is averaging 79.2 points per game, and about the group’s chemistry this early into a long season.
“I did jump Frank for no assists,” said Ryan. “You knew that’d be the first thing I said when I walked in the locker room.”
“I apologized,” said Kaminsky. “I said sorry, but I didn’t mean it.”