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Wisconsin finds the right middle ground to beat Baylor, 69-52

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There wasn’t anything too complicated about Wisconsin’s game plan.

The Badgers wanted to pound straight ahead — a basketball version of blunt-force trauma — softening Baylor’s normally stingy defense from the inside out.

“They left the middle of the zone open a little bit,” forward Frank Kaminsky said. “We just kind of hammered.”

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And it worked.

Points in the paint translated into an early lead, which let second-seeded Wisconsin remain patient and efficient on the way to a 69-52 victory in this West Regional semifinal at Honda Center on Thursday night.

“Defensively, we broke down a lot, especially in the first half,” Baylor forward Cory Jefferson said. “They got a lot of things that normally we wouldn’t give up.”

Such as layups — Kaminsky scored on four of those in the first five minutes, which got him started on a game-high 19 points. When the Baylor defense tried to clog the lane, Wisconsin guards Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson responded by hitting from the perimeter.

The Badgers made 52% of their shots, held an edge on the boards and kept a highly athletic opponent from scoring any fastbreak points.

“Frank set the tone,” Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan said of his 7-foot junior. “The other guys followed along with him.”

Sixth-seeded Baylor came to Southern California this week hoping to advance to a Final Four that will be played in its own backyard, barely an hour down the road by way of the Tom Landry Freeway and the President George Bush Turnpike.

Coach Scott Drew tried to set a loose tone, taking his players to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles.

“I had chicken, I had waffles and I had … a side of fries,” guard Gary Franklin said, adding: “I was in a food coma.”

Maybe that explained the slow start Thursday.

The Bears scored on a layup in the opening seconds, then went almost five minutes before making another basket.

At the other end of the floor, Kaminsky was having his way inside, not the least bit hampered by Baylor’s length. Wisconsin might be a more aggressive team than in seasons past, willing to run when the opportunity presents itself, but the Badgers still know how to take their time.

Ryan had spelled out their strategy the day before, talking about attacking that Baylor zone.

“You take what the defense gives you,” he said. “You have to probe.”

That’s exactly what his team did. Guards penetrated, then backed off. Big men caught entry passes and, if they weren’t open, kicked the ball back outside.

Baylor, which had not seen a big man who could finish like Kaminsky, grew increasingly flustered, falling behind 29-16 by halftime.

“We came out with the mind-set that we need to be more aggressive,” guard Kenny Chery said of the final 20 minutes. “We need to play better defensively.”

The Bears certainly improved on offense, with Jefferson, Chery and center Isaiah Austin doing most of the scoring. But on a night when they shot just 32% and gave up 36 points in the paint, it wasn’t enough.

“The toughest thing is trying to pressure those guys because they don’t turn the ball over,” Drew said. “Now you’re forced into rotations and you give them even easier baskets.”

The final minutes felt like a formality. Wisconsin was rolling on offense, scoring in a variety of ways and seemingly content to trade baskets until the final buzzer.

For the Badgers, it was all part of the plan.

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsBasketballCollege BasketballBaylor BearsWisconsin BadgersNCAAIsaiah Austin
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