Frank Kaminsky and the Wisconsin Badgers hung on to make the Final Four again.
“Frank the Tank” scored 29 points, Sam Dekker added his second straight career high of 27 and the West Regional’s top seed beat No. 2 Arizona 85-78 on Saturday to reach consecutive Final Fours for the first time in school history.
The Badgers (35-3) denied the Wildcats (34-4) a Final Four berth for the second straight year, having beaten them by one point in overtime in Anaheim a year ago when their seeds were reversed.
Wisconsin and 67-year-old coach Bo Ryan head to Indianapolis next week hoping for another shot at undefeated and top-seeded Kentucky, which beat the Badgers by one point in the national semifinals last year.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley scored 17 points each for the Wildcats, who once again failed to deliver a first-time Final Four appearance for coach Sean Miller. T.J. McConnell added 14 points in his last college game and Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York had 11 each.
Just like a year ago, Kaminsky came up big for the Badgers. He sidestepped and slithered, pivoted and deked in eluding the Wildcats’ lockdown defense. Arizona tossed its biggest bodies on the 7-footer and he still found ways to score inside and out.
The Badgers hit 10 of 12 3-point attempts in the second half, outscoring the Wildcats 30-3 from long range.
Arizona pressured full court in the last 4 minutes, making for some perilous possessions by the Badgers as they darted and passed trying to safely get the ball down court. A long inbounds pass by Wisconsin was nearly intercepted before Josh Gasser grabbed it, got fouled and made both free throws to keep the Badgers ahead by 10 points.
The Wildcats twice got within five points in the last 2 1/2 minutes, but both times Dekker dashed their hopes with arcing 3-pointers.
Kaminsky led the Badgers’ offensive outburst to start the second half. He scored eight of their 14 points, working their inside-outside game to perfection in finding Dekker for a 3-pointer to put Wisconsin ahead 44-36.
Hollis-Jefferson and Tarczewski picked up their third fouls and freshman Stanley Johnson left the game to have his contact lens adjusted, all in quick succession. It didn’t faze the Wildcats, who went on a 10-3 run to close to 47-46.
Dekker hit Wisconsin’s fifth 3-pointer of the second half, launching a 10-2 spurt that gave the Badgers a 57-48 lead. Nigel Hayes added a 3 and Kaminsky scored on a reverse layup before getting called for his third foul.
Arizona led 33-30 at halftime after missing 7 of 8 field goals to start the game.
The Badgers jumped to a 10-2 lead to start the game, with Ashley going to the bench after two quick fouls. He soon returned, scoring six straight points that tied the game and gave the Wildcats a stronger presence in defending Kaminsky, who had 13 points in the half.
Tarczewski and Kaminsky were a tangle of arms and legs in the post, and their mouths were running too. Tarczewski dunked on Kaminsky, who scored on the next play and had something to say about it.
Arizona: The Wildcats haven’t been to the Final Four since 2001, losing to Duke in the title game. … Their 14-game winning streak ended. … They shot 55 percent in the first half.
Wisconsin: The Badgers won their 10th straight. … Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and actress-girlfriend Olivia Munn sat behind the Badgers bench for the second straight game.