Wisconsin ends Kentucky's perfect season with Final Four stunner
Wisconsin avenged last year's heartbreaking Final Four loss to Kentucky and ended the Wildcats' perfect season with a 71-64 victory in the national semifinals in Indianapolis on Saturday night.
The Badgers trailed 60-56 with 6:37 left to play but outscored the Wildcats 15-4 to hand Kentucky its first loss after 38 consecutive wins to start the season. The Wildcats were bidding to become the first undefeated national champion in men's Division I since Indiana in 1975-76.
"It hurts but I'm so proud of these kids," Calipari told TBS's Tracy Wolfson after the game. "Wisconsin was outstanding. I thought we had 'em. And they didn't go away. They played like we played, they just kept coming."
Asked what he told his players, Calipari said, "I just told them no one's ever going to do what you just did. It's history and it's not changing. It hurts because we were really close to doing something even more historic than 38 in a row."
While Kentucky fell short of winning its ninth national title, it nonetheless became the first team ever to start a season 38-0. The Wildcats were making their fourth appearance in the Final Four in five years. They won the title in 2012 but lost in the semifinals in 2011 and the title game in 2013, to Connecticut.
National player of the year Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin with 20 points. The game was tied at halftime at 36, and the Badgers had an eight-point second-half lead before the Wildcats rallied to go back in front.
Kentucky had beaten Wisconsin by one point at last year's Final Four on a three-pointer in the final seconds by Aaron Harrison. This year it was the Badgers who made all the big shots down the stretch.
A jumper by Karl-Anthony Towns gave the Wildcats a 60-56 lead at the 6:37 mark, Kentucky's biggest lead of the second half. A driving layup by Sam Dekker brought the Badgers within two, and Nigel Hayes tied the score at 60 with 2:35 to go on a putback layup. Replays appeared to show that Hayes's follow shot came after the shot clock expired, but the officials did not overrule the initial call.
A missed shot by Andrew Harrison gave Wisconsin the ball back with two minutes left. Dekker then drilled a step-back three-pointer, giving the Badgers a lead they would not relinquish. Trey Lyles then turned it over for the Wildcats, and Dekker made a free-throw for a 64-60 advantage.
Aaron Harrison, the late-game hero of last year's title game run for Kentucky, converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to one, but Kaminsky made two free-throws to restore a three-point edge with 25.4 seconds remaining. The Wildcats elected to go inside on their next possession, but Towns could only make 1-of-2 at the line, forcing Kentucky to foul. The Badgers scored their final eight points at the line overall, missing just twice, preventing Kentucky from having a shot to tie in the closing seconds.
Dekker, the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional, finished with 16 points, while Hayes and Koenig each had 12. Towns led the Wildcats with 16 points, while Andrew Harrison had 13 and Aaron Harrison had 12, though only seven of the twins' points came after halftime.
This is Wisconsin's second appearance in the national championship game and its first since winning the third-ever NCAA tournament in 1941. The Badgers will face Duke, an 81-61 winner over Michigan State in Saturday's first semifinal. The Blue Devils beat Wisconsin 80-70 in the ACC/Big Ten challenge on Dec. 3 in Madison.