DRILLED TO PERFECTION
Disciplined Badgers shoot down Wildcats’ bid for 40-0
INDIANAPOLIS — History was not made Saturday night, it was denied.
Wisconsin wrecked Kentucky’s quest for a perfect season with a 71-64 victory in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was an oil slick for fans from Lexington who wanted to see the Wildcats achieve college basketball’s first 40-0 season. Instead they witnessed their beloved team go from 38 and 0 to 38 and “no!”
Wisconsin avenged last year’s national semifinal loss to Kentucky with a victory that will age for as long as good cheeses do in Madison.
You knew it was real when Sam Dekker, in front of a mostly disbelieving
crowd of 72,238, hugged teammate Josh Gasser near midcourt when the buzzer sounded.
It was hard to fathom that Wisconsin, not Kentucky, would be advancing to Monday’s championship game.
So you’re saying the Badgers now have a chance to win their only other NCAA title since 1941?
“We have a chance,” Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan joked after the game. “A little bit better than Jim Carrey in ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ ”
Wisconsin will play Duke, which beat Michigan State, 81-61, in the other semifinal.
Wisconsin fans who purchased T-shirts that read “38-1” won’t have to burn them now.
Senior forward Frank Kaminsky, who turned 22 on Saturday and finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, said he got the best birthday present since his dad took him to get his driver’s license at age 16.
Wisconsin, indeed, put Kentucky in its rearview mirror.
The game hinged on a final few minutes tinged with tension and controversy.
Kentucky, after trailing by eight points in the second half, fought back to take a 60-56 lead.
But then, the Wildcats did something inexplicable.
“We’re a finishing team,” Coach John Calipari said. “That’s the way we play, but we didn’t.”
Wisconsin tied it at 60-all with 2:41 left on a put-back basket by Nigel Hayes. A replay showed that Hayes did not get the shot off before the shot clock expired.
It is a non-reviewable play, so the game went on.
Dekker, the hero of so many other Wisconsin wins, including last week’s West Regional final against Arizona, followed with a threepointer with 1:40 left that gave the Badgers the lead for good.
“It felt good out of my hand,” Dekker said. “I was waiting for a good look like that all night.”
Not that things didn’t get sticky. Kentucky, which has rallied back from deficits all season, trimmed the lead to one when Aaron Harrison made a basket and free throw with 56 seconds left.
This was the same Harrison who knocked Wisconsin out last year with a threepoint shot with 5.7 seconds remaining.
Kentucky couldn’t come back this time. Kaminsky was fouled and made two free throws to push the lead back to 66-63.
Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns drew a foul but could make only one of two attempts.
That allowed Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig a chance, with 12 seconds left, to give the Badgers a little breathing room with two made free throws.
Wisconsin could sense victory when Harrison launched an airball with eight seconds left.
This wasn’t last year, or last year’s shot. Kaminsky returned to the rematch as national player of the year.
“That loss last year was motivation for us in the off season to get better,” Kaminsky said.
Wisconsin marches on with a 36-3 record that will shine through Sunday’s sunrise.
Kentucky’s season is suddenly and shockingly over.
The most astonishing stat, other than the final score, was Wisconsin outrebounding Kentucky, 34-22.
“That doesn’t happen,” Calipari said.
Dekker, harassed all night by taller defenders, finished with 16 points. Hayes and Koenig each had 12.
Towns led Kentucky with 16 points, and Andrew Harrison, Aaron’s brother, had 13.
Wisconsin had eight- and seven-point leads in the second half, but Kentucky answered each time.
“When we were down by eight, the game probably should have been over,” Calipari said.
One thing that could be said about Kentucky during the winning streak was it did not panic. It won two games in overtime this season and survived several other close calls.
The Wildcats trailed Notre Dame for 22 minutes 51 seconds in last week’s Midwest Regional final in Cleveland. That was the most minutes Kentucky has trailed in a game this season.
Kentucky finished fast in that game, though, making its last nine shots to pull out a two-point win.
Saturday night, Wisconsin watched Kentucky erase a nine-point first-half deficit, even though the Badgers were beating the Wildcats up and down the court, and also on the backboards.
Kentucky always seems to respond after Calipari screams at his players and stamps his foot a few times — but not this time.
When Kentucky led, 6056, on a Towns turn-around shot with 6:30 left, you figured the Wildcats were on their way to Monday.
After a great season, however, they had the script turned on them. The team that always closes strong got closed down.
“If you don’t make plays in the last five minutes,” Kentucky junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein said, “you will lose.”
Hard as it may be to believe, Kentucky did.
WISCONSIN All-American Frank Kaminsky blocks a shot by Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein in second half. Kaminsky finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for the 36-3 Badgers; the Wildcats finished 38-1.
SAM DEKKER , whose late three-pointer would put Wisconsin ahead to stay, shoots over Willie CauleyStein (15), Aaron Harrison, Karl-Anthony Towns (12).