For the second consecutive March, the Arizona Wildcats and Wisconsin Badgers met in the Elite Eight with a Final Four trip on the line.
Early on, it was the Badgers who took control of the game. Behind a strong scoring start from 2014 West Region MVP Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin had a 10-2 lead less than four minutes into the game. After scoring only four points in the first half of the Sweet 16 against North Carolina, Kaminsky scored five points in the first 90 seconds of the game.
“I don’t really care who’s guarding me at this point.” Kaminsky said, “I just want to make plays for my team.”
Arizona looked out of sorts during the opening part of the game, missing five of their first six shots and losing starting forward Brandon Ashley to two quick fouls less than 90 seconds into the game. After some whistles forced him to sit for a bit, it was Ashley who helped lead the Wildcats back, scoring six consecutive points after checking back in with two fouls at the 11-minute mark of the first half. It was a risk that paid off for Arizona coach Sean Miller, as Ashley’s aggressiveness sparked his team on both ends of the court.
However, after calling timeout down 10-2, the Wildcats took over the first half, going on a 31-20 run to take a 33-30 lead into the break. The Wildcats held Wisconsin to just 38% shooting in the opening 20 minutes. While Kaminsky scored 13 points, he did so by shooting just 5-13 from the field. His teammates weren’t much help, shooting 5-13 combined themsevles, and basically standing around for 30 seconds while they tried to work the ball inside to the senior.
“I was a little out of control in the first half, throwing up some wild shots.” Kaminsky said, “It was just one of those things where I was trying to make too many things happen in one possession.”
The second half kicked off with a ton of energy in the building as fans anticipated the final 20 mins.
Wisconsin again started off hot, going on a 10-1 run to open the half, 8 of those points coming from Kaminsky. Things got even rockier for the Wildcats as super-frosh Stanley Johnson took a shot to the face and had to be taken to the locker room as Wisconsin continued to build their lead. For the second consecutive half, Wisconsin had built an eight-point lead less than four minutes in.
And just as they did in the first 20 minutes, the Wildcats called a timeout and went on a run of their own. After falling behind 44-36, Arizona 12-4 run to make it a one-possession game again. But behind some big shots from Sam Dekker, the Badgers were again able to take control. With 8:30 remaining in the game, Wisconsin took their first double-digit lead behind scorching hot shooting from the entire team. The Badgers took their first double-digit lead of the game at 62-51. After shooting just 10-26 in the first half, the Badgers hit 10 of their first 13 shots to open the second, including an incredible 7-8 from three.
The Wildcats refused to go away quietly, chipping away at the lead with a full-court press and some timely defense. With Arizona sticking around, the Badgers turned to the two men who carried them all game, Kaminsky and Dekker. Kaminsky was able to get pretty much whatever he wanted inside down the stretch. With under four minutes remaining and the lead at 7, Dekker drove on Johnson and was able to get an and-one to push the lead back to double-digits while also fouling the freshman out of the game.
The game wasn’t over though. After Kaminsky went to the bench with his fourth foul, Arizona was able to pick up the pressure and cut the lead to five with just over two minutes remaining. But as he had done all second half, Dekker again hit a huge three-pointer to ice the game for the Badgers.
“Once he’s (Dekker) in a good rhythm like that, you want to give him the ball.” said Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser
For the game, Dekker (27 points) and Kaminsky (29 points) combined for 56 points to carry the Badgers. Dekker especially was key, scoring 20 of his points in the second half on five big-time three-pointers en route to winning the West Region Most Outstanding Player.
“I knew I had to stay aggressive.” Dekker said. “It was a lot of confidence. I was able to get some shots and they went down for me.”
For Arizona and Coach Miller, it was another season coming up short in the Elite Eight.
“When you lose in this game, it’s hard. You lose 4 times in 7 years, and that’s probably a record, right?”
The Badgers shot an incredible 15-19 from the field in the second half to win the West region and earn a shot at the national title yet again. Wisconsin looks like a motivated group on a mission. This season, they plan on not just enjoying their time at the Final Four, but winning the whole thing.