INDIANAPOLIS – One of most historic seasons in Wisconsin men’s basketball history ended in not-so-great fashion for the Badgers, as they fell to Duke 68-63 in Monday night’s national championship game.
The entire game was an absolute battle, as teams traded buckets and blows for 40 minutes.
In the first half, neither team could pull away as a six-point scoring margin for Duke was the largest of the period. Duke freshmen forwards Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow both were limited in the first 20 minutes due to foul trouble, but the Blue Devils were able to ride 50 percent shooting in the first half and keep it close.
Predictably, in such an even matchup, the two teams went into the second half tied at 31.
In the second half, the Badgers hopped out to an early five-point lead and were riding that momentum to start the half. Sophomore guard Bronson Koenig came out hot, scoring five points and assisting on a Kaminsky bucket in the first three minutes of the period.
However, despite the foul trouble and struggle to hit shots early on, Duke would not go down without a fight.
With 13:25 left in the second half, a Kaminsky layup put the Badgers up 48-39 with 13:25 remaining in the second half and Wisconsin was rolling with both Winslow and Okafor in foul trouble.
However, following a Duke timeout, freshman Grayson Allen decided it was his time to shine and he single-handedly took over the game, scoring the next eight points for Duke and putting the Blue Devils right back into the game. Duke rallied around the freshman, as his play gave his team back the momentum and confidence they needed to close out the game.
When you knew it was over
This game was a battle from wire-to-wire, and with taking into account the unpredictability of the NCAA tournament, you really did not know it was over until the final buzzer sounded. It was only then where Duke could officially celebrate their fifth national title under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Wisconsin Player of the Game
Frank Kaminsky – 21 points (7-16 FG, 2-4 3Pt) and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes
One of the greatest players to ever put on a Wisconsin uniform played in his final game Monday and he still put together an outstanding performance on the biggest stage. He never shied away from and outplayed Okafor on both ends of the floor and was as good as he has been all season. Unfortunately, for Kaminsky and the Badgers, it just was not enough in the end.
Duke Player of the Game
Tyus Jones – 23 points (7-13 FG, 2-3 3Pt) and five rebounds in 37 minutes.
Tyus Jones torched the Badgers for 22 points in their first matchup in December, and the Duke freshman did it once again on Monday night. Jones hit big shot after big shot, including the dagger three-point shot that put the Blue Devils up eight points with just 1:24 remaining. On a night where neither Okafor nor Winslow were able to produce, Jones stepped up when Duke needed him to most.
The End of an Era
Both Kaminsky and fifth-year senior guard Josh Gasser played their final games as Badgers, and it is likely that both will be remembered as two of the best to ever play in a Wisconsin uniform.
Gasser is just the second player in UW basketball history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists in a career. He was also one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and the heart and soul of Wisconsin’s team.
Kaminsky finished in ninth place on Wisconsin’s career scoring chart, as his 21-point performance on Monday night gave him 1,458 for his career, and he set Wisconsin’s single-season scoring record with 732 points, topping Alando Tucker’s 2007-08 season. The senior was also a consensus first-team all-American and a winner of the AP National Player of the Year, the Naismith Trophy and Oscar Robertson trophy, all of which recognized him as the best college basketball player in the nation.
For as long as they have been under head coach Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has never been a team that fouls a lot.
This, however, was not the case Monday night.
In the second half alone, Wisconsin committed 13 teams fouls after having just two in the first. Those foul calls ended up being the defining aspect of the game, as Duke shot and made 10 more free throws than the Badgers and committed just six fouls in the second half.
Best Team Ever?
The loss was not the most ideal way for Wisconsin to close out this season, but that loss was just the Badgers’ fourth all year and prior to tonight’s game, UW had won 21 of their last 22 games.
When into perspective, the argument can be made that this is the best team Wisconsin has ever put on the court despite not ending the season with a championship.
Their 36 wins are a school-record, and they fell just one win shy of the Big Ten Conference record of 37 set by Illinois in 2004-05. On top of it all, their final victory this season came against a then-undefeated Kentucky team.
No matter which way you put it, this season was a historic one for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Josh Gasser on what the season means for him at this point:
“You know, the relationships we build with each other, you know, that’s the stuff that I’m proud about. We had a heck of a season. The stuff we accomplished. Sometimes, you know, life’s not fair.”
Bo Ryan on the officiating:
“Both teams are always going to feel that there’s a question or two. So it’s just the way the game’s player. But I’ve been with these guys a long time, and I’ve watched a lot of basketball. Sometimes games are played differently, and you have to go with the flow.”
Sam Dekker on the loss:
“Congrats to Duke. I’m proud of our guys. I’m blessed to be on this team. I’m disappointed in myself for my performance tonight. I gave it my all, and I couldn’t be prouder to be on this team. I’ve never felt closer to a group of guys, and this one hurts.”
Bo Ryan on Frank Kaminsky:
“He’s going to get even better. But what he did in his years at Wisconsin will be remembered for a long time.”