March 12, 2015

(AP) - Frank Kaminsky is finishing his impressive Big Ten career at Wisconsin in familiar surroundings.

The sixth-ranked and top-seeded Badgers play their first game of the conference tournament Friday against No. 9 seed Michigan at the United Center, where Kaminsky watched games while growing up in the Chicago suburb of Lisle.

''I can't even count how many games that I've seen at the United Center, from when I was born until I graduated high school,'' Kaminsky said. ''Even in college, too, I was going back and going to Bulls games.''

Time to create some new memories for the standout big man.

There are higher stakes at play for the Badgers, who had byes for the first two days of the tournament and can boost their resume for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tourney.

Kaminsky downplays such talk.

''A lot of people talk about that we could potentially be a No. 1 seed, but that's not necessarily what we're playing for,'' he said. ''We just want to make the tournament. I think we've made a strong case to make the tournament so far.''

Put the Badgers (28-3, 16-2) in the ''sure thing'' category.

Wisconsin rebounded from a 59-53 loss at then-No. 14 Maryland on Feb. 24 to finish with three straight wins, including 72-48 at then-No. 23 Ohio State on Sunday. Kaminsky was downright dominant during that period, averaging 25.3 points and 66.7 percent shooting.

Kaminsky was named Big Ten player of the year to cap this memorable stretch, though with the notoriety comes more attention. The coaching staff knows what is coming as defenses try to slow Kaminsky.

Double teams. Triple teams. Pinches in the lane to cut off entry passes.

Kaminsky is a skilled enough dribbler and passer to get out of trouble. But teammates must be ready.

''Crisper passes, just moving without the ball. That's the key thing, because guys are going to be so cognizant of where he is, they'll lose track of where you're going,'' reserve forward Duje Dukan said.

Making things worse for opponents is that the Badgers have two more versatile scorers in the frontcourt in Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker; and two guards who can shoot 3-pointers in Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser.

''We don't really need to adjust much. If they're going to double down on Frank, we have guys who can score, who can make plays and the great thing about Frank is that he's unselfish,'' Gasser said. ''He's a great passer and a willing passer.''

What could hurt Wisconsin is foul trouble, since the Badgers have been lacking punch off the bench. It has especially been the case since senior Traevon Jackson went down with a right foot injury, forcing sixth man Koenig into the starting lineup.

Koenig fouled out at Michigan on Jan. 24 after having 13 points, and Kaminsky scored eight of his 22 in overtime as Wisconsin won 69-64 after the Wolverines (16-15) tied it on Derrick Walton Jr.'s 3 with 1.3 seconds left in regulation.

That was the start of a 2-8 stretch for Michigan, but it beat Rutgers 79-69 in the regular-season finale Saturday and routed Illinois 73-55 in its conference tournament opener Thursday.

''We're not gonna let ourselves slack or be upset about the things that have happened to our team in the past,'' said freshman Aubrey Dawkins, who had 18 points and is averaging 23.3 in the last three games while shooting 65.8 percent and 60.9 from 3-point range.

''We're gonna try and stay focused and keep getting better. We're not gonna let a couple setbacks hold us back.''

Walton, sidelined for the last 11 games because of a left toe/foot injury, said he will play against Wisconsin. He led the Wolverines with 17 points in the first meeting and averages 10.7.

The Badgers have won 14 of the last 16 in this series, including both matchups in the Big Ten tournament.

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