ARLINGTON, Texas — The Wisconsin men’s basketball team will be playing its fifth game of the NCAA Tournament Saturday, but the scouting report of its opponent has remained relatively unchanged since the Sweet 16.

In the second NCAA semifinal game at AT&T Stadium Saturday, No. 2 Wisconsin (30-7) will take on a No. 8 Kentucky (28-10) team that brings a lot of length and athleticism – something the Badgers have seen no shortage of in postseason.

“We’ve probably been saying in every game we’ve played this year that teams are long and in fact they are,” Wisconsin freshman forward Nigel Hayes said. “Just count them up. Baylor, how long they were. Arizona was equally as long. These guys are no different.”

None of the Wildcats’ starters — all of whom are freshmen — are shorter than 6-foot-6 while only two players that start for the Badgers are taller than 6-foot-3.

Among the Wildcat starters, none are shorter than 6-foot-6.  Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald Among the Wildcat starters, none are shorter than 6-foot-6.
Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald

With a starting lineup on the small side and a system under coach Bo Ryan that emphasizes ball security rather than highlight reel alley-oops, Wisconsin is nationally perceived to be lacking in athleticism.

“Ninety percent of our games we’re not the most athletic team on the court. We’re used to not being known as the athletes and we’re used to hearing that. We have no problem with that,” sophomore forward Sam Dekker said. “We just have to make do with what we have and I think we’ve done that very well this season.

“We play to our strengths and we stay disciplined and stay focused and just do the Wisconsin thing. It seems to work for us pretty well.”

Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald

The Badgers have done the “Wisconsin thing” in the tournament against teams like No. 6 seed Baylor and No. 1 seed Arizona that were widely accepted as owning a distinct advantage in athleticism over Wisconsin.

Kentucky comes to Texas with a starting lineup of five first-year players that were all five-star recruits coming out of high school. The highest of them all was Julius Randle, who was rated the top power forward in the country and third-highest rated recruit overall.

Randle, a Dallas native, has not disappointed, averaging a double-double with 15.1 points per game and 10.7 rebounds every game this season.

With a 16-point, 11-rebound performance in Kentucky’s 75-72 win over Michigan in the Elite Eight, Randle picked up his 22nd double-double, moving him into second on the all-time list for double-doubles in a freshman season behind only Marcus Beasley of Kansas State.

Julius Randle was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald Julius Randle was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional.
Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald

“For a combination of strength and size and the way he hits the glass, I think in that category, he’s as good as anybody I’ve seen,” Ryan said of Randle.

With so much height, Kentucky has been able to take control of the glass this postseason, out-rebounding its opponent in every game except its loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament Championship.

Kentucky’s depth took a hit in the Sweet 16, though, when 7-foot sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein sustained a foot injury that would keep him from playing in the Elite Eight.

Cauley-Stein was one of the best rim protectors in the country — racking up 106 blocks this season before that injury.

The 7-footer has not been ruled out for Saturday’s game versus Wisconsin, but is listed as questionable. If Cauley-Stein misses his second-straight game of the tournament, the paint will be much more open for Wisconsin’s frontline.

“[Cauley-Stein] takes away a strong inside presence,” Hayes said. “He probably shies away a lot of people from the rim in fear of getting their shots blocked or having them altered. So without him being there I feel like that will allow us to drive a little more and get them out of their things inside.”

Shooting on the Big Stage

For the last 18 years, the Final Four has been held at a domed stadium in order to attract larger crowds to the event.

This year the Final Four is being held at AT&T Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys’ home field, which has a capacity of over 100,000.

With the seats so far away from the basketball court itself, players can have a difficult time adjusting to the new sight lines.

“You have to get adjusted first,” Hayes said. “We did our shooting drill [Wednesday] and that was absolutely horrendous — the shooting performance that we had. I think that was just us getting used to those rims. The court seems a little longer, actually, it seems a lot longer standing a one end and the other, I don’t know what that is or why that is. It’s just little things we have to get adjusted to and I’m sure we will when we go out there in the open practice.”

While it is important to be conscious of the fact that adjustments might need to be made, in the end the players are still shooting at the same size hoop as in a arena.

“Sometimes people almost look into it too much and as a shooter, if you think, ‘oh, it’s a big venue, it’s going to be hard to shoot. It’s going to make you shoot worse,’” Dekker said. “So you just have to go out and shoot. I looked at it kind of as playing outside, playing in the front yard. If you can shoot there, you can shoot anywhere.”

Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald