In an overtime classic to cap off Saturday's Elite Eight NCAA tournament action, the Wisconsin Badgers advanced to the Final Four with a 64-63 victory over the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Now, the No. 2 Badgers from the West region move on to face the winner of Sunday's Midwest regional final between second seed Michigan and the upstart No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats.
ESPN Stats & Info noted that this contest was the seventh overtime game of the 2014 tournament—tied for most in history:
This is the 7th OT game of the tourney, tied for the most in a single NCAA Tournament.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 30, 2014
Talk about March Madness. Arizona star Nick Johnson had a team-high 16 points, but was called for an offensive foul on the penultimate possession, then failed to get a potential winning shot off as time expired.
Wisconsin deferred time and again to 7'0" star Frank Kaminsky, and the versatile big man did not disappoint in leading all scorers with 28 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com provided simple but effective analysis on why Kaminsky was so effective against Arizona:
Frank Kaminsky. Matchup nightmare.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2014
And to think, as CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli pointed out, Kaminsky's number of offers coming out of high school weren't all that prestigious—certainly not suggestive of a dominant collegiate player:
Kaminsky had offers from Wisky, NU, DePaul, Bradley, NIU and SIU. He developed IN college.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) March 30, 2014
The Wildcats have been rated No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com, and they did an admirable job shutting down everyone else. But Kaminsky's size and finesse were something even super-athletic freshman forward Aaron Gordon and the rest of Arizona had no consistent answer for.
Gordon played huge, though, recording a career-high 18 rebounds and nailing a clutch, game-tying three-pointer in the extra period to answer Ben Brust. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports also highlighted Gordon's defensive versatility:
Aaron Gordon has guarded Wisconsin's center, wing and point guard tonight. Amazing.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 30, 2014
The Big Ten Network's Mike Hall commended the job the Wildcats did as a team of keeping the sizable Badgers front line away from the rim:
Arizona's D is making it nearly impossible for the Badgers to do anything in the paint.— Mike Hall (@BTNMikeHall) March 30, 2014
If not for the way Kaminsky was able to aid spacing and stretch the floor, Wisconsin would not have even competed in this contest.
A layup by point guard Traevon Jackson gave Wisconsin a 54-52 lead with just over a minute left. Then, Wildcats standout Nick Johnson, who led Arizona with 16 points of his own, shot an air ball that was followed with a dunk by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to knot the score at 54:
Jackson missed a jumper to end regulation, which CBS Sports expert Seth Davis criticized for not getting the ball to Kaminsky on the final play:
Terrible play by Traevon Jackson. Gotta give Frank the ball.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 30, 2014
Even when Kaminsky wasn't scoring, he was setting up opportunities for his teammates. To cite a specific example, when Jackson went to the hole late in overtime, the defense concentrated on Kiminsky, and although Jackson missed the layup, Kaminsky was right there to sneak in and tip it in for a 64-61 lead.
Borzello couldn't have described the action better, as Arizona cut the lead back to one with under a minute left:
Punching and counter-punching. Terrific stuff.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 30, 2014
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, T.J. McConnell's struggles from the field continued when he missed his last attempt to go 2-of-10 shooting, and Johnson was called for an offensive foul in the final seconds while driving to the hoop:
ESPN's Jeff Goodman—among others—wasn't certain about the call on Johnson:
Charge? Extremely debatable.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 30, 2014
Nevertheless, it was a heck of an effort by Wisconsin to get the job done in a game where casual fans would hate to see either team suffer a loss. After the game, head coach Bo Ryan intimated the impact his late father had on him in the context of clinching his maiden Final Four berth:
Really emotional Bo Ryan talking about his father's passing/Final 4: "It's going to be tough without him there. ... This is for Butch."— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 30, 2014
Although the Badgers have done a far better job scoring the basketball down the stretch, Ryan's squad was able to adapt in this contest. Using Ryan's traditional, methodical approach dependent on half-court offensive execution, Wisconsin was able to grind it out against such a formidable opponent and do just enough to advance to the national semifinals.
This marks Ryan's 13th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, yet the Badgers had failed to reach the Final Four each time. Regardless of the winner on Saturday, either Ryan or his counterpart, Sean Miller, was going to make his first appearance on the biggest stage in college basketball.
Miller discussed the impact Kaminsky had following the loss:
Zona coach Sean Miller on #Badgers Kaminsky: "I thought the big fella for them was the difference."— Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) March 30, 2014
Ryan and Wisconsin came out on the winning end, with Kaminsky as the driving force and a proportionally Herculean effort on defense aiding the Badgers' landmark triumph.
Who has a better chance of beating Wisconsin in the Final Four?
Kentucky is comprised of a ton of freshmen who are teeming with confidence, plenty capable of toppling the Wolverines in the Elite Eight. But that Michigan nucleus fell to Louisville in the national-title game last season, and has proved its ability to battle through adversity in the absence of standout big man Mitch McGary.
Either matchup will be difficult for the Badgers, but as long as Kaminsky is clicking on all cylinders and his teammates are able to make excellent adjustments as they did in knocking off Arizona, Wisconsin should be favored in Arlington.