INDIANAPOLIS – The Wisconsin men’s basketball team handed the once-undefeated Kentucky Wildcats their first loss of the season in Saturday night’s national semifinal, 71-64.
Kentucky (38-1) came out flying, with sophomore guard Andrew Harrison knocking down a three on the Wildcats’ first possession and then hooking up with junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein for an alley-oop that put Kentucky up 5-0 before a minute had passed.
Wisconsin (36-3), however, as they have always done, remained focused and fought back.
At one point in the first half, the Badgers held a lead as large as nine and it appeared as if the game was getting away from the Wildcats early.
Nevertheless, Kentucky showed they were far too talented to lose a game in the first half and slowly whittled down the Badgers’ lead, and the teams ultimately went into the locker room tied at 36.
In the second half, the two teams traded leads and baskets, and it was a battle until the bitter end.
The turning point in Saturday’s game came with 1:43 left in the second half. The Badgers had just crawled back into the game after being down four and Dekker used a screen off Kaminsky to knock down the biggest three of the Badgers’ season, putting them up 63-60 with under two minutes to play.
On the next possession, Dekker took a charge on Trey Lyles as he was driving to the basket, and Wisconsin had once again regained full control of the game.
When you knew it was over
Aaron Harrison has played his way into having the reputation for hitting clutch shots and breaking the hearts of teams. He had the opportunity Saturday, with 10 seconds left and Kentucky down four, to give his team one last hope, but he came up short. Literally.
Harrison launched a three from the top of the key, but it was an air ball, and at that point, it was all but over as the Badgers had a 69-64 lead with only five seconds left.
Wisconsin Player of the Game
Frank Kaminsky – 20 points (7-for-11, 1-for-3 3-point), 11 rebounds in 37 minutes
Leading up to the game, Kentucky’s frontcourt was expected to be Kaminsky’s toughest challenge of the season.
However, it was quite the contrary, as the nation’s top player proved to be too much for the Wildcats. Kaminsky used his length and quickness to demoralize the Kentucky frontcourt like no one had been able to do all season.
Whether it was taking a Kentucky big man from the perimeter to the hoop or slowly backing them down to the block, Frank the Tank had his way on Saturday.
Kentucky Player of the Game
Karl-Anthony Towns – 16 points (7-for-11) and nine rebounds in 31 minutes.
No player for the Wildcats was overly impressive, as on a team with this much talent, rarely does someone shine above the rest.
However, Towns was really the only member of Kentucky who played close to consistently well from start to finish. After getting beat up on the boards in the first half, the freshman bounced back nicely in the second, grabbing a total of five offensive boards in the final 20 minutes while playing a key role in keeping the Wildcats in the game.
Towns did as he usually does and backed Kaminsky down on the block. He got plenty of good looks down low, but unfortunately for Kentucky, it just was not enough.
Frank the Tank Making History
With Saturday night’s performance, Kaminsky passed former Badger star Devin Harris for 10th place on Wisconsin’s career scoring list. With 1,437 career points, he is 17 points shy of passing Kirk Penney for ninth place.
Also, the all-American is just five points away from breaking Wisconsin’s single-season scoring record set by Alando Tucker in the 2006-07 season.
Lastly, with 11 rebounds tonight, Kaminsky has 308 on the season, good for third place in Wisconsin history. The senior also matched the Lucas Oil Stadium NCAA tournament record with 10 defensive rebounds.
Battle on the Boards
Kentucky came into this game as one of the best overall rebounding teams in the country, especially on the offensive glass.
However, Wisconsin dominated the Wildcats on the boards, 34-22 overall. This matched the largest rebounding margin against Kentucky this season. On the offensive glass, where Kentucky has killed teams this season, the Badgers outrebounded the Wildcats 7-1 in the first half and 12-6 overall.
Cardiac Koenig Strikes Again
Not only did Bronson Koenig hit a big midrange jumper to tie the game going into halftime, but he also hit three crucial free throws in the final 12 seconds of the game to seal the deal for Wisconsin.
Koenig is starting to make a habit of this, as he is becoming the go-to guy for the Badgers in clutch situations, boasting a swagger and confidence he has always had on the court.
Best of the Best?
The Badgers will play in its first national championship game since winning the title in 1941.
The win also brings Wisconsin’s season total to 36, extending their school record and leaving them one win shy of tying Illinois Big Ten record of 37 set in the 2004-05 season.
The Badgers have now won 11 straight games and 21 of their last 22, and with the win, Wisconsin becomes the first team to win a semifinal rematch in back-to-back years.
Nigel Hayes on what the team’s biggest motivation was:
“It’s definitely us wanting to reach our goals. I mean, it was not the mindset to try and their streak. The fact that we wanted to win a national championship and they were the team we had to play, inevitably we would have to end that streak if we wanted to reach that goal.”
Sam Dekker on his big three-point shot:
“We called something. I don’t remember what we called, but we called something to get Frank to get a ball screen for myself. …Karl-Anthony got on his heels a little bit. Thought I was going to drive. [I] was able to free up some space on a step back. Off my hand, I knew it was down.”
Traevon Jackson on playing for the national championship:
“It is truly a blessing. It is amazing. I am just thankful to the Lord that he allowed us to be here. We have been playing for this the whole year and his word never lies, we are here, we made it.”
Bo Ryan on Wisconsin’s chances Monday:
“Hopefully we’ll be energized for Monday night. It’s a nice feeling to know that you’ve got a chance. A little bit better than Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. There were times where it was a million-to-one, but not this time.”