ANAHEIM, Calif. — Wisconsin never had to break a sweat against a zone defense that had carried Baylor into the Sweet 16.
The Badgers, patient and precise with their passing, fed center Frank Kaminsky in the middle of the zone early in the game and then had its way with the Bears on both ends of the court.
Wisconsin led by 13 at halftime and eased to a 69-52 victory at the Honda Center on Thursday night to reach its first regional final since 2005.
Kaminsky scored 19 points and had a career-high six blocked shots, helping carve up a 1-3-1 Baylor zone that had stuffed Creighton and star Doug McDermott a round earlier.
“That was one of our points on our scouting report — get into the middle of the zone and try to make some plays happen,” Kaminsky said. “They left the middle of zone open a little bit and we were able to get the ball in there and get some easy baskets at the rim or some easy kick-outs for threes.”
Wisconsin, 29-7 and seeded second in the West, will play in the regional final against the winner of top-seeded Arizona and No. 4 San Diego State.
Wisconsin’s dominance was such that Kaminsky had as many field goals as Baylor (six) two minutes into the second half. The Badgers’ success pulled Baylor out of its zone after that, but the Bears fell behind 39-20 with 16 minutes left and never threatened the rest of the way.
“They were much better on the inside than I thought they would be,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “First and foremost was Kaminsky’s ability to finish inside. Once that happened, it caved in the defense a little bit and they really shot the ball well.”
Baylor, which rolled into the Sweet 16 after hitting 11 of 18 3-point shots against Creighton, never found rhythm against Wisconsin’s pack-line defense. The sixth-seeded Bears (26-12) struggled to get into the lane and made only 2 of 15 shots from behind the arc.
“We could never get consecutive baskets,” Drew said. “We went 2 of 15 from 3, and we needed a few of those to go in.”
Kaminsky, a first-team All-Big Ten player, made 8 of 11 shots from the field, frequently using head fakes and shot fakes to find easier shots.
“We knew he would be critical against that zone,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Frank set the tone. And the other guys followed along with him.”
Badgers guard Ben Brust scored 14 points and hit 3 of 5 3-point shots to continue his hot shooting. He has made 11 of 20 from behind the arc in the NCAA Tournament. Forward Nigel Hayes came off the bench to post 10 points and six rebounds, another key factor inside the zone.
Forward Cory Jefferson scored a team-high 15 points for Baylor, which shot 31.6 percent from the field (18 of 57). Center Isaiah Austin and point guard Kenny Chery each added 12 points. Chery also had a team-high eight rebounds but only one assist.
Wisconsin is allowing 54.7 points through three NCAA Tournament games, complementing the best offense Ryan has had with the Badgers. He has taken Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 13 seasons at the school, reaching a regional final for the second time. Ryan’s Badgers lost to top-seeded North Carolina in the 2005 Elite Eight.
Baylor, which had early double-digits leads in tournament victories over Nebraska and Creighton, was cold at the start and had to work uphill. After Jefferson made the team’s first shot, the Bears missed their next six attempts from the field.
Wisconsin stayed patient offensively in a slow-paced first half, using crisp passes to find an open shot, assisting on 11 of 13 baskets before halftime. The Badgers took a 29-16 lead at halftime as Baylor was 5 of 24 from the field.
“Wisconsin’s probably, if not the toughest team to come back on, definitely one of the hardest to come back from,” Drew said.
“We got away from the zone, tried to go man, tried to pressure them up. They’re extremely hard to pressure and rattle. That led them to get some easy buckets in the second half. Defensively, once we got behind, I
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