Kentucky’s quest for history ended in Indianapolis as the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Wildcats 71-64 to end a potentially perfect season that came short by two wins. For the 4th time in five seasons, John Calipari’s team gets to the Final Four, and for the 3rd time, they come away empty handed.
The Badgers move on to play the Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship Game on Monday night.
It was literally that kind of game tonight.
Akin to Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, two heavyweights shared the elevated stage (court) in Lucas Oil Stadium and, for 40 minutes, traded punches. Continuing the boxing analogy: For most of the game, Wisconsin jabbed Kentucky. On two separate occasions Wisconsin built leads of nine points and eight points, and both times relinquished the lead to Kentucky.
With less than 5:00 left in the game, Kentucky took a 58-56 lead. From that point, the Badgers outscored the Wildcats 13-8 and were led by their two best players: All-American Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Kaminsky led all scorers with 20 points and Dekker added 16.
Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns fell one game short of playing Jahlil Okafor in what would have been a match-up of the likely top two picks in June’s NBA Draft in the National Championship Game. With 16 points and a dominant performance, Towns looked like the slam-dunk No. 1 overall pick come June.
Badgers head coach Bo Ryan advanced to his 1st National Championship Game where he will play Coach K who is making his 9th appearance in the Championship Game.
Click here for a full box score of the game, and continue on for highlights of the 2015 National Semifinal.
The Game Got Off to a Hot Start
Each team was tied 9-9 almost five minutes into the game. Dekker continued his great tournament performance with an early three-point shot and running floater in the lane for five quick points. Cauley-Stein and Towns were a powerful combination early that the Badgers couldn’t answer for.
Wisconsin took a 13-11 lead, their 1st of the game, at the 12:40 mark in the 1st half. With a terrific up-and-down pace and a plethora of shooters on the floor by both teams, this game had all the early makings of an instant classic.
The Dekker Train Continued to Roll Early
Dekker was 3/4 from the floor early with seven points. The 23-14, nine-point deficit for Kentucky was their largest of the entire NCAA Tournament. They previously trailed by 10 points on two separate occasions during the regular season; once to Texas A&M and the other to… Columbia.
Kentucky slowly chipped away at the lead, and what was once a nine-point lead, went back down to three. A big reason for that was Andrew Harrison, who arguably had one of his best games of the entire season.
The Badgers led the Wildcats 30-27 with 3:43 remaining the 1st half.
Both Heavyweight Fighters Entered Halftime Tied at 36-36
The game lived up to every bit of the hype in the 1st half.
The Badgers did all of the little things right, a formula for how to beat Kentucky. Surprisingly, the Badgers out-rebounded the Wildcats 15-10, which was key because Wisconsin took advantage of 2nd-chance opportunities. Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky led all Badgers in scoring with nine points — more than he had in the entire game during last season’s National Semifinal.
The Harrison twins showed their experience on the national stage once more. Andrew led all scorers with 11 points while his brother, Aaron, had seven — the Harrison twins combined for half of Kentucky’s points.
The Badgers Continued Right Where They Left Off
Wisconsin came out of the half on a 16-8 run and had a 52-44 lead at the 14:41 mark. Kaminsky, with 16 points, continued to assert his dominance and forced Kentucky to come out and guard him both inside and outside.
Kentucky Fought Back Again to Re-take Lead Late in the 2nd Half
After being out-muscled on the glass in the 1st half, Kentucky regained their size edge in the 2nd half.
After taking several jabs by the Badgers, the Wildcats went on a 14-4 run after being down 52-44 to take a 58-56 lead, their 1st of the 2nd half. After a quiet 1st half, Towns was involved in the game plan during the 2nd half, and it paid off because his easy buckets kept Kentucky floating around when the Badgers had multiple opportunities to land a haymaker and extend their lead to double-digits.
Both teams were excellent from the free-throw line.
Two Controversial Late-game Calls Evened Out
Although Lyles hit Dekker on this play, no foul was called. On the next possession, Towns took a charge, which gave the Wildcats the ball right back with just over 5:00 remaining in the game.
At 3:16, Kaminsky had been held scoreless for the last 14 minutes of the game.
Aaron Harrison, once again, had a big stretch for the Wildcats.
Preview: Kentucky vs. Wisconsin Part II
It is a rarity in college basketball that two teams that played in the Final Four in the previous season match up again the following year, yet here are. Click here for Heavy’s Kentucky-Wisconsin preview and prediction.
Last season the Kentucky Wildcats narrowly edged the Wisconsin Badgers 74-73 in the National Semifinal in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games of all-time.
Kentucky lost last year’s National Championship Game to UConn, the 2nd time head coach John Calipari’s Wildcats fell to the Huskies in the Final Four in four seasons.
The 38-0 Kentucky Wildcats are two games away from being the 1st team in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball history to finish 40-0 since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Wisconsin Badgers are looking for redemption after coming out of the West Region for the 2nd consecutive season led by their All-American and Associated Press Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky.
The Wildcats demolished West Virginia and narrowly defeated Notre Dame while the Badgers were able to defeat Oregon, North Carolina and Arizona in succession — the toughest road they could have taken — with each win more impressive than the last.
One of the reasons the Badgers offensive output has been so impressive is Sam Dekker who is quickly rising up NBA Draft boards. The Badgers shot historically well in the 2nd half against an impressive Arizona team. 15 of Dekker’s 27 total points came off five three-point shots, which was half of Wisconsin’s total of 10 for the game. Kentucky has to slow down Wisconsin’s ability to hit outside shots by clouding the perimeter on defense.
Kentucky’s roster is loaded with NBA-ready talent including Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Willie Cauley-Stein. Wisconsin will have to remain an efficient shooting bunch like they were against Arizona in the Elite Eight.
The last team to finish a season undefeated and win the National Championship was the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers who went 32-0 led by Hall of Fame head coach Bob Knight. The Wildcats are just two wins away from immortality.