March 28, 2014

Wisconsin thrives on fundamentals

The Badgers win by playing as a team.

Resilient. Disciplined. Unselfish. Tough. White guys.

That’s how Wisconsin’s starting five would describe its team in a few words. The last answer came in jest from junior forward Frank Kaminsky, but all are accurate adjectives.

Wisconsin, which starts four white players and one black player, is a fundamentally sound team in all phases. They have scorers in the paint and on the perimeter, and are one of the better defensive teams left in the NCAA Tournament.

“That’s what made us dangerous thus far and that’s what’s made us still playing today,” said junior guard John Gasser, who labeled the Badgers “unselfish.”

“We’re very versatile. We move the ball,” Gasser said. “That’s kind of the makeup of our team.”

Wisconsin is a team that tends to be in every game, only one of their seven losses was by double figures. The Badgers endured their share of struggles, losing five of six games after a 16-0 start, but are steady for the most part.

“They don’t beat themselves,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “To me, the best part of Wisconsin’s offense is their ability to shot fake. They get you up. That leads to drives, which leads to threes and fouls and easy twos.”

The balanced attack is one of the reasons Wisconsin is in position to reach its first Final Four under Bo Ryan, although nobody is taking that for granted.

“We can’t be looking ahead,” senior guard Ben Brust said. “We’ve just got to stay focused on what’s at task, and that is Arizona.”

Inside matchups

Two of the more intriguing matchups going into this game involve big men.

Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker will have the tall order of defending Arizona freshman sensation Aaron Gordon. Kaminsky, a 7-footer, is expected to go against Arizona 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski.

Each team has respect for one another and is ready for the challenge.

“[Gordon] is one of the top players in the nation at his position and you’ve got to realize that and you’ve got to respect that,” Dekker said. “Just try to stay solid and take some things away from him. As a competitor, you want to play against the best players. I’m excited for it.”

Kaminsky is equally aware of the size and athleticism of Tarczewski. But he managed to have success in the previous round against Baylor 7-footer Isaiah Austin, and is looking to replicate that success.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for us to try and set the tone inside,” Kaminsky said. “Once we do that, it will open up a lot of things for us.”

Said Tarczewksi: “Kaminsky’s a great player, one of those rare players that’s a five who pops out and shoots 3s. But we’re going to do what we do, lock down on our defensive principles.”

Brotherly love

It’s been a good few weeks in the Miller household.

Arizona coach Sean Miller is a win away from making his first trip to the Final Four, and his younger brother, Archie, is also a win away from making an improbable run with Dayton to the Final Four.

Win or lose, though, it’s still a remarkable accomplishment for the brothers from southwestern Pennsylvania. This year marks the first time two brothers have coached in the same Elite Eight.

“We’ve had a remarkable couple weeks and it’s no question a special time,” Sean said. “I’ll also tell you in no way do I want to dim the light on our team and I know he feels the same way. As great of a story as it is for us, neither of us would be here unless we had teams that were capable of getting to this level.”

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