David Stluka/UW Athletic Communi
Frank Kaminsky: Yes, we have star power.
About five minutes into the University of Wisconsin’s slow-starting first game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Friday night in Omaha, Neb., against No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina University, my 15-year-old son proclaimed that the rest of the country might be wondering why the Badgers are a No. 1 seed in the West region.
But before too long, senior center, Big Ten Player of the Year and Naismith Trophy finalist Frank Kaminsky found his groove, scoring 27 and grabbing 12 rebounds. The Badgers eventually cruised to an 86-72 victory. That’s a lot of points for this team, which through March 20 was averaging 72.3 points per game.
On Sunday night, during UW’s round of 32 game against Oregon, it sometimes appeared as if the Badgers would join the ranks of Villanova, Virginia and Kansas — No. 1 and 2 seeds that fell hard earlier in the day. Kaminsky struggled on his way to scoring 16, while junior forward Sam Dekker led the team with 17 in the 72-65 victory. Sophomores Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig stepped up in a big way, too, scoring 14 and 12, respectively.
The win over Oregon, which sent the Badgers to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years (and the seventh time in 14 years), wasn’t necessarily pretty. Nor was it as thrilling as UW’s come-from-behind nail-biter last year against the Ducks in the tournament’s third round at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. But, as senior guard Josh Gasser told Madison.com on Sunday night, “You just want to win.”
Now it’s off to Los Angeles, where the Badgers will take on another formidable opponent, No. 4 seed North Carolina — Dekker’s favorite team as a kid, he admitted to CBS’s Lewis Johnson in a brief postgame interview.
Wisconsin will need greater contributions from its bench, particularly senior forward Duje Dukan and sophomore guard Zak Showalter, especially if Kaminsky starts slowly again. And wouldn’t it be nice if senior guard Traevon Jackson, who broke his foot on Jan. 11 at Rutgers and finally was cleared to practice last week, could see at least a little playing time against the Tar Heels?