ARLINGTON, Texas — The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team made just two three-point shots in the NCAA semifinals. The second came with six seconds left to push the Wildcats into the title game, beating Wisconsin 74-73.
Kentucky freshman forward James Young led all scorers with 17 points. Julius Randle pitched in with 16 points and five boards.
Sam Dekker and Ben Brust picked up 15 points each for Wisconsin while Frank Kaminsky was held to eight points after averaging 18.5 points per game in the NCAA Tournament entering the Final Four.
Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald
With the game tied at 71 and 16 seconds left, Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison fouled Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson behind the three-point line to give the Badgers a chance to, at worst, essentially guarantee an overtime period with three shots at the free-throw line.
Jackson missed his first attempt, but would recover to sink the next two, giving the Badgers a two-point advantage.
On the ensuing possession, Andrew Harrison passed the ball to his brother, Aaron Harrison, on the right elbow and Aaron would sink a step-back three with Josh Gasser’s hand in his face to give Kentucky a one-point lead.
“Aaron has been doing that all tournament,” Dekker said. “He’s got that clutch gene and props to him for hitting that shot. You got to tip your cap when credit is due.”
Aaron Harrison has now hit three-straight game tying or go-ahead 3-point shots in the final minute of the game in the tournament.
Wisconsin owned possession with six seconds left on the clock, down one, with a chance to walk away winners at the buzzer.
As it has all year long, Wisconsin put the ball in Jackson’s hands with the game on the line.
Jackson drove the length of the court and jump stopped just right of the free throw line to get a look at the basket. The junior pulled the trigger and the ball banged off the backboard and over the hoop to mark the end of Wisconsin’s run in the tournament.
“I got hit on my arm and I had to kind of adjust in the air, that’s why I hit the backboard,” Jackson said. “I can’t make any excuses, you got to make better plays with that opportunity.”
Wisconsin gained control of the game early, building a nine-point lead seven minutes into the first half off of a 10-0 run.
The Badgers received a spark off of the bench from freshman guard Bronson Koenig who scored all 11 of his points in the first half.
After opening the game 8-for-15 from the floor, Wisconsin’s shooting would go cold, hitting just one of its eight field goal attempts in the final 7:07 of the first half, allowing Kentucky to cut its deficit to four, 40-36, at halftime.
Dekker would get the Badgers off to a quick start in the second half, hitting a three-pointer on their first possession, but Kentucky would come roaring back answering with a 15-0 run that would put the Wildcats up by eight, 51-43, with 15:33 remaining.
“Good thing was I didn’t tell them that they had just scored 15 in a row on us,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “That might have made our guys nervous.”
Wisconsin showed no signs of nerves or backing down, responding with a 15-4 run to take back a three-point lead.
The bench again would give the Badgers a lift as junior guard Duje Dukan scored eight points — six coming from behind the arc — in less than three minutes to help put Wisconsin back in the game.
“The bench picked us up,” Ryan said. “Some guys made some plays. We got some stops. That’s the only way you can come from behind.”
But the Wildcats would exploit the Badgers down low all game long, outscoring Wisconsin 46-24 in the paint and winning the rebound battle 32-27.
Kentucky grabbed 11 offense rebounds and converted those into 23 second chance points compared to Wisconsin’s 10.
“That’s the way they play,” Ryan said. “That’s something that we had to try to answer and we’re like a lot of teams, we didn’t get that part done…they impose their will that way.”
Wisconsin was able to draw fouls on Kentucky and get to the free throw line. The Badgers set a Final Four record for free throw percentage at 95 percent (19-20), but the single miss would prove to be fatal.
The loss marks the end of senior guard Ben Brust’s Wisconsin career. Brust is the all-time leader in three-point field goals made with 235.
“It’s the seniors last go around, the last time we got to suit up with those guys,” Gasser said. “That’s why it’s tough and you lose a one possession game, that’s not easy.”
With the exception of Brust, Wisconsin will be returning every player that averaged at least seven minutes a game.
While the team is still recovering from the loss Saturday, expectations have already been set for next season.
“We got a taste of what it’s like to play at this stage and we’re going to be back. I know it,” Kaminsky said.
[Photo by Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald]