I feel like a broken record at this point. Throughout this entire NCAA Tournament, I’ve been writing about how great Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker have been in leading Wisconsin to the Final Four. Well, the Badgers’ dynamic duo did it again, this time against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. The pair helped lead Wisconsin to a stunning 71-64 victory that sends the Badgers to the National Championship Game and ends the Wildcats’ bid at a perfect season.
Kaminsky, the National Player of the Year, showed off his skills against Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and the best defensive team in the country. The senior finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 7-of-11 from the field, not backing down at all from Kentucky’s imposing front line.
Kaminsky reached deep into his bag of tricks to have success down low, and he shot 6-of-8 from around the basket, according to CBS Sports. There were a few times where he was bothered by the length and athleticism of Kentucky, which resulted in three turnovers and one particularly nasty block by Cauley-Stein, but Kaminsky was impressive on the whole.
Kaminsky had some troubles on the defensive end, as Towns had his way with him in the post and beat him on several occasions for offensive rebounds. While the Wildcats lost, Towns looked the part of a potential No. 1 pick in the draft, finishing with 16 points and nine boards (five offensive) while shooting 7-of-11 from the field. When he actually got the ball in the post against Kaminsky, Towns got great looks at the basket and showed the ability to go over either shoulder to score.
The problem was that Kentucky didn’t go to Towns enough (or at all) down the stretch, despite his obvious advantage. After a Towns bucket with 6:37 left put the Wildcats up four, he didn’t take a shot the rest of the game (did split a pair of key free throws in the final minute), as Kentucky’s offense devolved into a stall that resulted in numerous poor shots from the Harrison twins. Not coincidentally, the Wildcats scored four points the rest of the game after that last Towns bucket.
Meanwhile, Dekker scored six points during that final 6:37, and he hit the biggest shot of the game: a step-back three pointer reminiscent of his shots against Arizona in the Elite Eight:
Not only was that an onions three, but that was an onions three over Towns.
Dekker has been one of the most impressive players in the entire tournament, and although he had several stretches where he was invisible against Kentucky, he came up big when it mattered most and finished with solid numbers. The junior had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting overall and 2-of-3 from three, and he again showed some nifty work off the dribble-drive. He made 4-of-6 shots from around the basket, per CBS Sports, which is pretty typical of the forward. He’s shooting over 70 percent at the rim this season, per ShotAnalytics.com.
Dekker has probably helped himself more than anybody in this tournament. He was seen as a late first-round pick prior to the tournament, but now DraftExpress has him as the 16th best prospect this year. That’s what’ll happen when you average 20.6 points while shooting 61.3 percent overall and 50 percent from three during a run to the title game.
Not much stood out from the other top prospects in this game. Cauley-Stein was quiet outside of a few loud blocks and an alley-oop, and his offensive shortcomings were noticeable. Trey Lyles had a handful of nice plays, but wasn’t that impactful overall. Devin Booker knocked down a couple of shots and also had a nice drive and finish, but he also took several bad long twos and didn’t attempt a single three-pointer. Dakari Johnson was a non-factor.
For Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes had trouble inside against the size of Kentucky, but the sophomore did step out and knock down two three-pointers. Hayes also came up with four offensive rebounds.
Now that the Badgers have upset the Wildcats, the last obstacle in the way of a national title is the Duke Blue Devils, who will be another whale of an opponent. Wisconsin and Duke have already squared off once this season, with the Blue Devils coming away with an 80-70 victory.
Duke was phenomenal in the other Final Four matchup on Saturday, destroying Michigan State by a final of 81-61. The Spartans actually went up 14-6 early thanks to a barrage of threes and some sloppy play by the Blue Devils, but Duke quickly found its groove and cruised to a win.
Per usual for this tourney, Justise Winslow led the way. I can’t rave enough about this kid, because he does just about everything well and has been superb throughout the tournament. Winslow finished with 19 points and nine rebounds while shooting 5-of-7 from the field against Michigan State, and he was also a terror on the defensive end. He was saddled with a few early fouls and committed some bad early turnovers (a trend of his as noted by Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal), but he shook that off and put forth another brilliant performance.
Offensively, Winslow did his best James Harden impression, minus the three-pointers. All seven of Winslow’s shots came from around the basket, and he also went 9-of-11 from the free throw line. He’s now 18-of-22 from the line in the tournament, which is significant considering his free throw shooting has been an issue for much of the year. (63 percent) Perhaps this is just an example of Small Sample Size Theater, but it’s a positive to see him knocking down free throws at a high rate.
But back to the Harden thing. Tell me this doesn’t look JUST like Harden:
And here’s another impressive Winslow drive where he goes left (his strong hand) but then uses the basket as a shield from the defender and finishes with his right hand on the other side:
Winslow isn’t the best player in the draft, but he’s my favorite and should go in the top five. Maybe it’s because he reminds me so much of both Harden and Jimmy Butler, but at any rate, this kid has the chance to be a two-way stud at the next level.
Then there’s Jahlil Okafor. It felt like Okafor had a quiet game, but he finished with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting while recording six boards, two blocks and two steals. Okafor would have done even more damage if he would have been fed in the post more, but there were too many possessions where he didn’t get a touch.
Despite this, Okafor still had a strong game, and we saw all of his skills in action. Perhaps his most impressive bucket of the night was a Tim Duncan-esque bank shot from mid-range. While Okafor doesn’t have much range, having that kind of shot in his repertoire to go along with his bevy of post moves is extremely impressive for such a young player.
Not only was Okafor solid offensively, but he held up well on the defensive end. Michigan State didn’t have much success in the paint, and Okafor played the pick-and-roll well. Sure, the Spartans may not have the best talent in the world, but it was still nice to see the big man perform on both ends of the floor.
While we unfortunately won’t get a matchup between Okafor and Towns, a rematch between Okafor and Kaminsky should be plenty of fun. Both guys are incredibly skilled in the post, but Kaminsky’s ability to stretch the floor could be huge against Duke. Okafor isn’t as comfortable guarding the perimeter, and Kaminsky had some success out there in the first matchup. Of course, Okafor should be able to score on Kaminsky inside given his strength advantage.
Either way, Okafor vs. Kaminsky and Winslow vs. Dekker is going to be a thing.