ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Frank Kaminsky was barely on the court long enough Thursday afternoon to get rid of the butterflies in his stomach, but the freshman center for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team insists they're gone.
Kaminsky, who played just two minutes as the Badgers opened the NCAA tournament with a 73-49 victory over Montana, says he's set to go if coach Bo Ryan needs him to play a bigger role in this evening's game against Vanderbilt at The Pit.
"I was a little nervous the first time being out there," said Kaminsky, who used the words "surreal" and "overwhelming" to describe his NCAA tournament debut. "You know you're on live TV and everyone is watching you. But I calmed down a little bit, got a good practice in (Friday) and I think I'll be ready whenever Coach needs me."
Kaminsky's minute total was his lowest since he sat out a game against Michigan State on Jan. 3 following a bout with the flu. He hasn't reached double figures in minutes in each of the last seven games, in part because he's somewhat of a liability on defense.
"I need to improve on the defensive end," Kaminsky said.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard believes Kaminsky is just dealing with the same things a lot of first-year players go through.
"He's experiencing a lot of things for the first time," Gard said. "He went through the (Big Ten) Conference tournament for the first time, the NCAA tournament for the first time. It's a new experience, first time going through it, and he's 18 years old. I didn't expect anything probably different as far as what he's experienced so far. It can be eye-opening."
Gard said Kaminsky's playing time was down against Montana for a couple reasons. Starting center Jared Berggren, a junior, was playing well, and UW went with a smaller lineup at times to match Montana's three-guard look.
It's easy for a young player to doubt himself when things go wrong, and that's exactly what Berggren said Kaminsky can't do.
"A lot of it is just staying confident," Berggren said. "Don't get too down on yourself if you're making mistakes. That's going to happen to everyone, especially when you're young. There's a lot to take in, a lot to learn.
"If you're getting two minutes or 10 or 12 minutes, just try to be aggressive and try to be confident. Don't be scared to make mistakes. Don't play to not screw up, play to help the team."
Sophomore forward Duje Dukan made a surprise appearance in the first half against Montana. Dukan hadn't played before halftime in a game since the season opener against Kennesaw State and had only played a total of 38 minutes in 12 games overall.
Ryan caught Dukan off guard during a timeout when he told him he might be going into the game. Junior forward Mike Bruesewitz had picked up his second foul with 11:28 left in the half, and Ryan went with Dukan over Kaminsky when Berggren needed a break with 5:41 left.
"I was super surprised, just focused on the huddle and what Coach was saying to the guys and he ended up pointing to me to get ready," Dukan said. "I just kind of waited for my chance. He ended up putting me in and I tried to make the best of it."
Dukan struggled during his 75-second appearance in the first half. He gave up a basket to Montana's Art Sanger and allowed Mathias Ward to get around him for an offensive rebound the next time down.
Gard said the 6-foot-8 Dukan, who made some appearances with UW's regular rotation in practice last week, has been making strides over the last month.
"I think there's been progress made," Gard said. "He's definitely made Mike and Ryan (Evans) better because he battles them every day in practice."
Vandy gets defensive
In its preseason preview issue, Sports Illustrated did a defensive study that featured five teams.
One of them was Vanderbilt, and the review wasn't glowing. According to SI, the Commodores were the least efficient defensive team from a major conference in last year's NCAA tournament.
But the same can't be said this season. Opponents are shooting 41.9 percent against Vanderbilt; until the final week of the regular season, the Commodores were within were within striking distance of Kentucky, which is considered one of the top defensive teams in the country, in that category.
"We're a lot better," Commodores coach Kevin Stallings said. "I think this team has bought into defense a little more than last year's team did."
The SI article pointed out that small forward Jeffery Taylor often had to defend the opponent's best guard last season because Vanderbilt's guards, Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins, were so poor on defense. That created a lot of issues for the Commodores, who didn't get past the first round of the NCAA tournament despite having one of the most potent offenses in the country.
The main objective during the offseason for Tinsley and Jenkins was to improve on defense. They have, and it's paying dividends for the Commodores.
"It's leaps and bounds better than what it was," Jenkins said. "We tried hard last year, but I feel like we didn't think we could be stoppers. I think our mentality really changed this year."
Ice, ice, baby
When he got back in his hotel room after Thursday's game, Berggren went to his closet and took out two plastic laundry bags. He filled them up with ice and then poured in his bath tub before filling it up with cold water.
Then Berggren got in and relaxed for about 10 minutes before his body got numb.
"Sounds like fun, doesn't it?" Berggren said of his method of keeping his legs fresh and his knees feeling good after 34 games this season. "It takes out some of the soreness in your muscles and aches and pains and just kind of freshens you up a little bit.
Gard has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Southern Illinois head coaching vacancy, but he said after Thursday's win over Montana that his focus right now is on the Badgers. … Taylor was born in Sweden but played high school ball in Hobbs, N.M., which is near the border with Texas. He led Hobbs High School to the New Mexico 5A state championship at The Pit in 2008.