Wisconsin looks to avenge its 2014 Final Four loss to Kentucky this weekend
Wisconsin is headed to the Final Four for the second straight year, and for the second straight year will face the Kentucky Wildcats in the semi-finals.
Wisconsin has momentum going into the game, defeating Arizona, 85-78, in Saturday’s Elite Eight game. Kentucky, meanwhile, needs to regroup after narrowly escaping the Notre Dame Fighting Irish by two free throws, 68-66. In their Final Four match up last year, Kentucky eked past the Badgers, 74-73.
Wisconsin’s offense has been impressive heading into this year’s game. Against Arizona, for example, the Badgers shot 79 percent in the second half. “Those shots were good shots. They were open,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said after the game. “Teammates put them into position”
As Wisconsin looks to hoist the championship trophy before “One Shining Moment” is played, there are two Badgers who have shined for the team in the tournament: senior Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker. In the Elite Eight game, the two forwards combined for 56 of the team’s 85 points (29 for Kaminsky, 27 for Dekker). Look for Kaminsky and Dekker to continue their dominant play against Kentucky.
Although the towering 7-foot Kaminsky is putting up tremendous numbers, he’s hungry for more.
“We’ve been to a Final Four before and we want to go further,” he said. “Every guy on this team will say that their goal is a National Championship, so that’s what we’re going to go for. We don’t want to go home. We have unfinished business that we need to take care of.”
Dekker is also poised to take care of business. At 6-foot-9, he has a soft jumper shot and has been unstoppable in the tournament. Dekker was 5-of-5 from behind the arc in the second half and hit some huge shots down the stretch to help Wisconsin run away with the Elite Eight win. He enters the Kentucky game coming off of career back-to-back scoring highs against UNC (23 points) and Arizona (27 points).
His level of play this year has not gone unnoticed. Dekker was selected as the 2015 West Regional Most Outstanding Player.
Like Kaminsky, Wisconsin sophomore forward Nigel Hayes is unsatisfied with just a semifinals appearance.
“Last year, our goal was to get to the Final Four. Now we are a year older, a year stronger, and better than last year,” Hayes said. “We have a different goal and that’s to win it.”
Still, there’s some preparation to do this week. “It’s not easy playing the dream team,” Kaminsky said. “We're going to have to figure out what we need to beat them, and we are going out to execute a great game plan.”
Senior Traevon Jackson expects “more reps, more time to heal up, more time to rest up and get ready for the next [game]” in practice this week. He also expects a lot from the team’s leader: “Frank is going to be Frank, he’s going to be solid, he’s going to do what he needs to do. He’s going to have 30 when he plays well. So that’s just Frank. He’s going to be player of the year, I’m sure.”
Last year, Wisconsin beat Arizona, and lost to Kentucky in the Final Four. Will history repeat itself? The Badgers hope not.
“If we stay aggressive and stick to our plan, we will win this game,” Dekker said.
Be sure to tune in on Saturday to see if Wisconsin does just that.
Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images