There will be no chance at history for John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats, as Wisconsin ended their brilliant undefeated run with a 71-64 victory on Saturday in the 2015 Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The win sets up a championship tilt on Monday against the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils, who cruised to an 81-61 win over No. 7 Michigan State in the first semifinal matchup of the day.
Badgers head coach Bo Ryan gave his take on the upcoming game against Duke in typically understated fashion, per SNY.tv's Adam Zagoria and Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports:
ESPN's Jayson Stark noted how long it's been since Wisconsin played for a national championship:
ESPN Stats & Info shared the significance of the end of Kentucky's undefeated run:
The final score does little to indicate the heart-stopping, back-and-forth nature of this game between two of college basketball's unassailable heavyweights.
Late clutch play from Sam Dekker and excellent free-throw shooting in the final seconds keyed the win for Ryan's squad, as the Badgers exacted revenge for their 74-73 loss to Kentucky in last year's Final Four. Calipari gave Wisconsin credit after the game, per Zagoria:
ESPN Stats & Info noted the scoring disparity in the final minutes:
Four Wisconsin starters scored in double figures, with Frank Kaminsky leading all scorers with 20 points and 11 rebounds to boot. Dekker finished with 16 points and three rebounds.
Karl-Anthony Towns was Kentucky's big star, notching 16 points and nine boards. A fine display, but it was not enough to prevent Kentucky from ending its season at 38-1.
The game started off at a breakneck pace, with the score tied at nine points apiece after just under five minutes of play.
Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal noted the key defensive matchups to start the game:
Willie Cauley-Stein finished a thunderous alley-oop early on to essentially launch the frenetic action, as seen below:
Cauley-Stein also hinted he plans on entering the NBA draft, per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today:
Both Harrison twins and Towns were also asked about their future after the game. None gave an affirmative answer, per Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:
Dekker dazzled with five quick points, while Kaminsky played through a fog at the start. Andrew Harrison was key for the Wildcats, picking up a huge block and leading his team in scoring in the first frame.
Duje Dukan gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game at 13-11, and the Badgers would hold on to their advantage throughout much of the first half.
The back-and-forth nature of the game kept Lucas Oil Stadium at a feverish pitch throughout the first 10 minutes of action.
CBS Sports' Sam Vecenie noted Bo Ryan's slow-burn offense had been operating at a masterful level:
Kentucky, despite all of its length, struggled for second-chance opportunities and was outworked on the boards, per ESPN's Myron Medcalf:
Kaminsky, Dekker and company did well to secure the paint, but it wasn't enough as the Wildcats made good on many of their first chances, shooting a robust 60 percent in the first half as a team.
The Wildcats took a 36-34 lead very late on in the first half via a wide-open, breakaway dunk from Trey Lyles, but Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig would knot up the score at 36 with a long two just as the half ended.
One only needed to glance at the head coaches to get a sense for just how intense the first 20 minutes of action were, per The Cauldron and CBS Sports:
With Dekker's offense nowhere to be seen for quite some time, Kaminsky became the focal point of the Badgers' attack to start the second half.
He scored seven of his team's first 10 points after the break, drawing praise from the likes of ESPN Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman with his drop-step wizardry:
Wisconsin opened up a 52-44 lead on a deep Koenig triple with 14:46 left in the game, forcing a timeout from Calipari.
The Wildcats ratcheted up the intensity on both ends of the court after the timeout and came right back at Wisconsin, embarking on an 8-2 run to close the gap to two points with under 12 minutes remaining. Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis likened the game to a boxing match:
The Badgers kept pace with the Wildcats despite some increasingly sloppy play, mainly by exploiting one Kentucky player in particular, per Tucker:
After a lot of punch-counterpunch play, Kentucky retook the lead at 58-56 for the first time just after the restart on an Aaron Harrison layup with 7:40 remaining.
Ryan, perhaps sensing his team losing its edge, put Kaminsky back in play after a brief spell on the bench.
With the score 60-56 Kentucky, Wisconsin looked like it might catch a break when Lyles appeared to strike Josh Gasser in the face.
The refs took a look at the play but did not charge Lyles with a flagrant foul, drawing the ire of the likes of Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton:
Kentucky was unable to capitalize on the good fortune, wasting away key possessions down the stretch with some poor shot selection—or lack thereof, per Big Ten Network's Michael DeCourcy:
Hayes tied the game up at 60-60 with a putback on his own miss just as the shot clock expired, setting up the wild final two minutes of the game.
Dekker, largely anonymous for long stretches, made good on his cold-blooded reputation. He sank an open three to give the Badgers the lead, promptly drew a foul attacking the rim and sank a free throw to put Wisconsin up 64-60.
Former Duke great and basketball analyst Jay Williams noted his excellent play:
A three-point play from Harrison brought Kentucky within one soon after Dekker's heroics, setting up the final bit of action.
Kaminsky and Koenig each sank two free throws on either side of a Towns foul shot to put Wisconsin up 68-64 with 10 seconds remaining.
Harrison airballed his three-point attempt on the ensuing possession, allowing Wisconsin to wrap up the game with free throws and take a 71-64 win into the championship game. Harrison commented on his missed shot after the game, per Ben Roberts of the Lexington Herald-Leader:
After going through the wringer against Kentucky, Wisconsin will have to regroup and recover quickly from this draining affair to face Duke.
The Blue Devils, led by Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, made easy work of Michigan State on Saturday and should roll into the championship game with utmost confidence.
The battle between the bigs will be key to this one, as Kaminsky and Dekker should be able to put in their usual solid work against Duke's interior defense.
Winslow will be key to the proceedings, with his shot-blocking ability and unparalleled athleticism, making him a matchup nightmare for the Badgers if his jump shot is falling.