INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Hands on his head, Frank Kaminsky walked slowly back to the bench as the young Duke Blue Devils started celebrating at midcourt.
This fun run is over for Frank the Tank and the tight-knit Wisconsin Badgers.
Kaminsky’s remarkable career with the Badgers ended with a 68-63 loss Monday night in the NCAA Tournament title game against Duke.
“It’s hard to say anything. These guys are my family,” Kaminsky said. “I mean that literally. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”
The double-double machine finished with 21 points and 12 boards.
But a couple late-game mistakes by the usually savvy senior hurt the Badgers.
The AP Player of the Year threw up an errant shot as the shot clock wound down with 2:39 left.
Kaminsky got beat by Duke freshman phenom center Jahlil Okafor with 3:14 left for a layup in the middle of the Blue Devils’ second-half surge, right after the big guy missed his own layup off a spin move.
Just like in December, when Duke beat Wisconsin 80-70 in Madison, Okafor and Duke’s youth beat Kaminsky and the experienced Badgers.
Fouls also hurt in the second half. Wisconsin had just two fouls in the first half, but 13 in the second — unusual for a team that prides itself on not getting whistles.
“There was more body contact in this game than any game we played all year, and I just feel sorry for my guys that all of the sudden a game was like that, and I think they’re struggling with that a little bit,” coach Bo Ryan said.
“We missed some opportunities. They hit some tough shots. But you know it’s just a shame that it had to be played that way.”
This isn’t the way Kaminsky wanted his career to end, of course.
But the disappointment won’t take away from what has been one of the most unique rags-to-riches stories in recent college basketball memory.
Kaminsky played just 10 minutes a game off the bench two years ago. He was an unknown quantity to the rest of the Big Ten when he entered the starting lineup in November 2013 as junior.
What a ride it’s been since then for him.
An admitted goofball, Kaminsky was all business on the court. Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel called him one of the most unusual difference-makers in the game today.
Ryan said he always knew what he had in Kaminsky. It was just a matter of him getting confidence and playing time.
He could post up. He could hit the 3. He could run the break.
He just had a few tough minutes at the wrong time on Monday night.
Kaminsky finished 7 of 16 from the field and 2 of 4 from 3-point range. His 3 with 1:08 left gave Wisconsin some late hope to pull within 66-61. Nigel Hayes’ dunk with 49 seconds left got the Badgers within three.
But Duke and its heralded freshmen held on from there.
This loss will surely sting in Madison, where the Badgers faithful were hoping their beloved team would secure the school’s first national title since 1941.
There is no next game to look forward to for this group. They were so adept at shaking off losses because of their experience and fun-loving antics off the court.
“I still told them how proud I am,” Ryan said. “I’ve never seen a bunch of guys — I’ve coached a long time — and that’s probably as far as guys (have come) together. I mean look at our offensive efficiency, that says a lot about a group of people who are willing to share the ball.”
Kaminsky was the ringleader. At first uncomfortable in front of the cameras, Kaminsky slowly adapted to the public, fun-loving “Frank the Tank” persona that fans and the media adored.
The rest of the frontcourt followed suit, just like on the court in the title game.
Sam Dekker finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. But after starting the tournament shooting 50 percent from 3-point range, Dekker was 0 of 6 against Duke.
Nigel Hayes had 13 points and hit 3 of 4 from the 3-point territory.
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