LOS ANGELES - Control the glass and control your fate in the NCAA tournament.
In a game where Wisconsin’s size and ferocity was tested, the Badgers (34-3) had to scratch and claw on the glass to get extra opportunities at taking the lead, a mindset that has been forged considering the amount of experience littered throughout the roster.
“We’ve all been through it before,” said senior Frank Kaminsky, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. “We just know what it takes. We have experience last year in the tournament, going deep into it. That kind of knowledge and experience helped us going into this year.”
Even with the 7-foot tall Kaminsky and two forwards over 6-8, the Badgers were facing a run-and-gun tempo offense that thrived on transition points, out muscling teams in the low post and wearing teams down by grabbing an average of 14 offensive rebounds per game.
The execution struggled at times, but the end result was what Wisconsin was looking for. In a first half where UW shot 36.7 and North Carolina finished at 50 percent, the Badgers trailed by only two because Wisconsin was plus-five in rebounds, plus-six on the offensive boards and plus-two in points in the paint.
“Little things hurt us at the end of the game,” North Carolina junior forward Brice Johnson (15 points) said. “We didn’t box out as well as we should have. If we had cut the second chance points we probably would have won this game.”
The Badgers took advantage of their 12 offensive rebounds to score 10 second-chance points, none being bigger than Sam Dekker’s offensive rebound with 4:21 to go with UW up 65-64. That rebound allowed a reset for the Badgers’ offense and led to a 3-pointer by the always-serviceable Josh Gasser.
That shot essentially sealed the game for the Badgers, who knew they had to come up with some answers to North Carolina’s dribble penetration that led to open 3-pointers.
The Badgers needed a stop, and they knew it.
“We really didn’t have to say too much to each other, other than get on each other on offensive boards,” said sophomore Bronson Koenig. “We just know each other so well that we knew we had a run left in us.”
That run ended up being 23-12 to close the game, thanks to Wisconsin collecting 35 rebounds and having firm control of the boards.
“That was huge,” senior Duje Dukan said. “I think that was kind of the turnaround for us. We needed to turn those opportunities into scores. I think limiting their rebounding was one of the key things that we focused in on, along with their transition. We wanted to make it a half-court game. In the first half because they did a good job of executing that was why we were in a close game. Down the stretch we just executed it better. That’s what you need to win.”