38 and home.
The Kentucky Wildcats’ bid for perfection ended Saturday night at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers, who rallied for a tough 71-64 victory in the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four at Indianapolis.
They will meet four-time national champ Duke in Monday night’s title game. The Blue Devils dominated Michigan State 81-61 in the first contest of the night.
National player of the year finalist Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Junior forward Sam Dekker added 16 points.
“These guys just gutted it out.,” Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan said. “We just kept battling on every possession.”
Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns led Kentucky with 16 points. Sophomore Andrew Harrison chipped in 13 points while Aaron Harrison had 12 points.
Kentucky came into the game as the first men’s team to have a 38-0 record.
But the Badgers fought back from a 60-56 deficit with 6:39 left in the game. Wisconsin went on an 8-0 run to regain a lead it never relinquished. It will be looking to win its first title since 1941.
As the final minutes ticked off, the Wildcats failed to score. They were stuck on 60 for five minutes. The Harrison twins, who shot well in the first half, couldn’t get much done offensively.
“I didn’t execute. I mean, we didn’t execute as a team, but me being the point guard, I didn’t do what coach told me to on a couple of occasions,” Andrew Harrison said at the postgame news conference.
His coach sternly interjected.
“He did fine. He did fine,” John Calipari said.
Meanwhile, Dekker stepped up, making a layup, a three-pointer and a free throw as the Badgers scooted ahead.
Calipari said the Badgers did a good job defending the Kentucky big men.
“They crowded us a little bit, and (our) guys got a little tentative,” he said.
Calipari looked at the stat sheet: Kentucky had only six turnovers, hit 90% of its free throws, made 48% of its field goals, and lost.
He said his team struggled to guard Wisconsin’s players, and the rebound battle — which Wisconsin won by 12 — was crucial.
Kamisky, who turned 22 on Saturday, was asked how the Badgers outrebounded a team that is the tallest in basketball.
“We stayed into them, attacking them, trying to do whatever we can,” he said. “Just trying to keep them off the glass was one of our main priorities.”
Freshman Justise Winslow led Duke with 19 points while national freshman of the year Jahlil Okafor had 18 points, 10 of which came in the first half. Senior guard Quinn Cook had 17.
“The defense was terrific,” Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We drove the ball with such strength. I actually think our offense gave our defense a push.”
Junior guard Denzel Valentine sparked the Spartans with three early three-pointers and finished with 22 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Senior guard Travis Trice had 16 points.
The Spartans, of the Big Ten, began the game in a higher gear than Duke, and quickly took an eight-point lead. But after Valentine hit his trio of long-range shots and Michigan State led 14-6, the Spartans struggled to get baskets the rest of the first half.
“They did a good job of denying us and forcing us out (farther from the basket). We took some bad shots,” Valentine said.
Duke occasionally used a 2-3 zone defense that protected some of its players with foul concerns and slowed the Spartans down. But it was when Duke played man-to-man that the Spartans really had a hard time scoring.
State made five of its first seven shots, then only made three more in the final 16 minutes of the opening half.
The Blue Devils, of the Atlantic Coast Conference, found baskets inside as the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Okafor powered for points around the basket.
Winslow used his quickness to score seven points in the first half, but he only played 12 minutes because he committed two fouls. Duke led at halftime 36-25, a turnaround of 19 points from its early deficit.
“Coach always stresses that great defense leads to great offense,” Cook said. The confidence gained in getting defensive stops led to the desire for Duke players to drive the lane instead of shooting three-pointers.
“We saw seams that we could take advantage of,” Cook said.
In the second half, Duke increased its lead to 20 points, then cruised home. The Spartans were never able to cut the deficit to single digits and Duke sank its free throws in the final minutes.
“We got beat and … Duke played awfully well, but I thought it wasn’t one of our better games,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said.
The Blue Devils apparently like playing in Final Fours in Indianapolis, home of the NCAA. It won titles there in 1991 and 2010. The other two crowns came in 1992 and 2001, each in Minneapolis.
Duke has beaten Wisconsin this season, 80-70 in Wisconsin in December. If Duke wins Monday night, it would tie Indiana and North Carolina for third-most NCAA championships with five.