MINNEAPOLIS - Gassed and exhausted, senior Frank Kaminsky had just enough energy to raise both of his arms in triumph toward the far corner of the upper deck. He purpose was simple, salute the vocal contingent of roughly 50 Wisconsin students who bused the four hours in hopes of seeing some history.
“We could hear them the whole game,” said Kaminsky. “They were loud. All of our fans were loud. It honestly felt like a home game at some points with how loud our fans were.”
They were loud because, quite simply, there was plenty for them to cheer about from start to finish.
Breaking a two game losing streak in Williams Arena, No.6 Wisconsin’s wire-to-wire 76-63 over Minnesota gives the Badgers the outright Big Ten title for the first time since 2008, the No.1 seed in next week’s conference tournament for the fourth time and keeps them in the hunt for a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
All in all, not a bad night.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” said Kaminsky, as the Badgers (27-3, 15-2 Big Ten) wrap up the regular season Sunday at No.23 Ohio State (22-8, 11-6). “It’s been fun. To win it (outright) in a rivalry game on Minnesota’s court with so many of our own fans here is something pretty special.”
Kaminsky continues to enhance his national player of the year resume with a 25 points, six rebounds and a career-high seven assists. In the last two games, Kaminsky has scored 56 points, secured 14 rebounds and has a 10-to-3 assist-to-turnover margin.
“(Frank’s) awesome,” said Dekker, who finished with 20 points, hitting that mark for the third time in the last seven games. “He’s really good, like really good. I’m dead serious. The dude is really good. He does so much for us.”
“There’s no ceiling we’re putting on him,” added UW coach Bo Ryan.
Joined by Nigel Hayes (12 points), Wisconsin’s three-man frontcourt scored the team’s first 14 points via the dunk, wing jumper, free throw line and 3-point shot and finished with a combined 57 points on 21-for-41 shooting.
UW led 10-4 at the first media timeout, making it the 12th straight game it had the led at that point, outscoring its opponents 117-53 during that stretch. The Badgers shot 63 percent in the first half and 50 percent for the game, their best road shooting performance since shooting 52.6 percent in a 23-point win at Northwestern Jan.4.
“We haven’t shot necessarily well on the road,” said Kaminsky. “It was great to be able to come out here and shoot the ball well from the beginning, build ourselves a lead and never look back.”
Wisconsin was so locked in early that Josh Gasser (4 for his last 19 from 3-point range) swished one from the top of the key as the shot clock expired, and Duje Dukan broke a 1-for-15 slump over 11 games with his 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 22-10.
Starting 8-for-10 from the floor and 4-for-4 from 3-point range, Wisconsin built a lead in never surrendered, making Minnesota look foolish with back cuts, pump fakes and dribble penetration.
“We got a couple where we went back door, got behind the defense and got some easy ones,” said Ryan. “That really helped our guys and gave them some confidence.”
And each time Wisconsin scored, a loud roar filled the arena that almost made it feel like the Badgers were back in the Kohl Center.
“It feels great to know, in terms of the regular season, we’re the class of the Big Ten,” said Gasser, as Wisconsin opened up a 19-6 lead following his 3-pointer and kept pouring it on. “No one else is there with us. We’re going to enjoy this one, and hopefully we can get another Big Ten championship when the tournament starts.”
Kaminsky scored 16 points in the first 15+ minutes of the first half and Dekker added 14, none more impressive than his one-handed slam after driving right past junior guard Carlos Morris and drawing a foul before making the rim rattle.
“That’s when it’s really fun because everyone’s sharing the ball, everyone’s moving well and then when you get on that it becomes contagious and the hoop really opens up,” said Dekker. “Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Even when Minnesota (17-13, 6-11) went on a 21-8 run over the two halves, the Badgers never let the lead drop below six, especially since they still found ways to deliver when it mattered most.
After missing 12 of its first 15 shots after halftime, Gasser splashed a 3-pointer at 9:45 to push the lead back to 10. The senior hit all three of his shots (two 3-pointers) to finish with eight points, four rebounds, five assists, two blocks and no turnovers. He also delivered again defensively on Minnesota leading scorer Andre Hollins, who finished with five points on 2-for-9 12 days after scoring only two points against the Badgers in Madison.
Dekker’s old fashioned 3-point play quieted the student section trying to get Minnesota back into the game with less than five minutes to go and Bronson Koenig’s 3-pointer with 1:35 left sent the fans that were left streaming for the exits.
“Building that big of a lead on the road is huge because then you’re playing in the driver’s seat the rest of the game,” said Kaminsky. “Every time they made a run, it felt like we made a big play and kind of neutralized them.”
And with each big play, the roar from the cardinal and white was deafening.
“When you have a crowd that’s into it, it makes everything so much more fun,” said Dekker. “It makes it more energetic and lifts the whole gym up…Whenever we hit a big shot, it got reasonably loud, so that just kind of adds some fuel to the fire. You can get a little cocky with it and ride that wave with it.”