Sitting on a table in a crowded Williams Arena hallway three weeks ago, Frank Kaminsky
used the words embarrassed and unacceptable to describe a night Wisconsin
would have loved to forget.
Kaminsky's performance Thursday night would suggests that the Badgers' January swoon is firmly in the review mirror.
Starting off both halves with thunderous dunks to ignite the 17,249 in attendance, the junior's 17 points led No.21 Wisconsin to a 78-70 decision over Minnesota; the same Gophers team that throttled the Badgers in a wire-to-wire victory 22 days earlier.
"I think we were better prepared this time," said Kaminsky, who added six rebounds and a perfect 9-for-9 at the free throw line. "We didn't do much different. We just had to go out and execute on offense and defense. We had to do that from the opening tip, go out and make plays happen from the get go. Energy is contagious."
Senior Ben Brust scored a team-high 20 points, including making three 3-pointers, and freshman Nigel Hayes (15 points) scored in double figures for the fourth straight game for Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5 Big Ten), which stayed three games behind Michigan – who the Badgers will see Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor - and Michigan State with six games left.
Sam Dekker added 10 points, giving UW four players in double figures for the 17th time this season. It was also the 17th time Wisconsin cracked the 70-point barrier.
"I just thought we were better," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "Working hard (and) reading and reacting to one another."
After scoring a school-record 43 points in the fourth game of the season, Kaminsky's commitment to the post had tapered off as of late, being held under double digits in four of the last six games. That included nine points in only 15 minutes against the Gophers after sitting most of the first half because of foul trouble.
Getting a dose of confidence back from his 10-point performance Sunday against No.9 Michigan State, Kaminsky helped lead the charge to reclaim the low post. After giving up a staggering 48 points in the paint, Wisconsin held Minnesota to only 20 points in the paint and 45.1 percent for the game, a stark turn round from the 66.7 percent the Gophers put on the Badgers in the second half previously.
"They did a great job of not allowing us to throw the ball in the paint, into the post, where we really had out way with that at home," said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, who used the term "polar opposites" to describe UW's defensive performances in the two games. "They did a great job adjusting, that is why coach Ryan has won as many games as he has won. He really prepared them in that regard."
Minnesota (16-9, 5-7) started 5 of 9 from the floor, building a 14-7 lead with 13:19 left, but it was at that point the Badgers bucked up defensively, something it didn't do often during that stretch of five losses in six games.
Engineering a 15-3 run, Wisconsin held Minnesota to one free throw over 10 possessions while forcing six turnovers. The Gophers finished with nine turnovers in the first half and 13 for the game, a big difference compared to the seven turnovers in 57 possessions in the first meeting.
"We've hit some shots, hit free throws, gotten to the line, so those are things that really can help you at the other end defensively," said Ryan. "You get people playing on their heels a little bit, can they play the same way?"
Minnesota couldn't, not with Wisconsin attacking the paint and driving right at the Gophers' low post players, causing early foul headaches for Pitino.
Mo Walker, who scored a career-high 18 points in the team's first meeting, spend the last 12:42 of the first half on the bench with a pair of fouls, while forwards Joey King and Elliott Eliason followed shortly after with two fouls each. That allowed Wisconsin to attack the basket early and often, helping UW score 18 points in the paint and go 30-for-36 from the free throw line.
"It has to do with the last time we played them," said Kaminsky. "Us bigs were kind of weak on defense, and a little bit on offense. We just wanted to come out with energy and we did that."
Walker finished with five points and didn't attempt his first shot until there was 3:28 remaining, while King (five points) fouled out late and Eliason finished with an ineffective two points. That didn't stop Minnesota from making a game of it late.
Although Wisconsin led by 15 points with 5:42 remaining, the Gophers twice cut the lead to five points in the final 78 seconds – getting 3-pointers from Austin Hollins (game-high 22 points) and Malik Smith (14).
UW making 10 of its final 12 free throws prevented Minnesota from getting any closer.
Calling its first meeting against Minnesota an embarrassment, letting the Gophers score at will in the low post, Frank Kaminsky and his teammates became the aggressors early, setting the tone for No.21 Wisconsin's 78-70 victory Thursday night.
Wisconsin pushes its winning streak to three while avenging its January loss to Minnesota