Kentucky knocks out Wisconsin, 74-73
ARLINGTON, Texas—A record night at the foul line had Wisconsin seconds away from a trip to the national title game.
What the Badgers needed was perfection.
Ben Brust and Sam Dekker each scored 15 points, but Traevon Jackson missed a free throw with 16 seconds left and Wisconsin was left stunned after Aaron Harrison’s 3 from the wing with 5.7 seconds to play gave Kentucky a 74-73.
It was the only free throw the Badgers missed all game, finishing a Final Four record 95 percent from the line, 19 of 20.
Not good enough.
“That’s what you’re going to get in the Final Four: a one-possession battle and unfortunately it just didn’t fall our way,” Brust said.
Jackson missed a jumper at the buzzer and the Badgers fell short in their quest for the school’s first national title since 1941.
Instead, the Wildcats ended one of the most successful seasons in Wisconsin history, starting with a 16-game winning streak and culminating at the Final Four. There were tears and comforting hugs all around the locker room after the game.
“Our guys certainly had nothing to hang their heads about,” coach Bo Ryan said. “We played hard, we played smart all season. That’s how we ended up here.”
Balanced scoring, bench contributions and clutch plays carried them into April, too. Sporting a little more firepower than the typical Wisconsin team under Ryan, the Badgers overcame uncharacteristic defensive shortcomings at times to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.
This time, though, Wisconsin (30-8) lost out in another test of basketball tempos. Board-crashing Kentucky (29-10) dominated the paint and overcame the patient Badgers’ eight 3s.
The Badgers withstood wave after wave of Kentucky players swooping in for dunks and tip-ins, only to get done in by a 3-pointer from Harrison from well beyond the arc at 25 feet.
But even then, Harrison had to earn it.
“He was pretty deep out there. He hadn’t really looked to pull (up) the entire game,” said guard Josh Gasser, Wisconsin’s best defensive player. “I saw him to start to rise up and I tried to contest the best I could.”
Until then, the game still seemed to be going their way in spite of the overwhelming edge in athleticism for Kentucky and their band of NBA-bound talent. The Wildcats had a 46-24 advantage on points in the paint.
Ryan had the final minute set up perfectly—a tight game with the ball in the hands of Jackson, the junior he’s trusted in such situations for countless games.
Jackson did his job in drawing a foul while attempting a 3.
Missed the first, hit the next two. It was just enough of an opening for Harrison to hit his game-winner.
One final chance to atone for the missed foul shot went awry.
“I thought it was in. We had other … opportunities,” Jackson said. “But the last shot was exactly what I wanted. I had him on his heels and got a good look.”
The Badgers had effectively answered an earlier Kentucky punch that left them trailing by eight early in the second half.
Backup forward Duje Dukan had a tip-in to help Wisconsin, and his 3 with 11:51 left had the Badgers back on top 56-55.
Back-and-forth the teams went down the stretch in a tense and chippy game that wasn’t decided until the last second.
Reserve point guard Bronson Koenig scored 11 in filling in for foul-plagued Jackson in the first half. Frank Kaminsky was held to eight points—10 below his tournament average—but chipped in four offensive rebounds that helped keep several possessions alive.
It might take them a while to forget this stinging loss, but the Badgers won’t be down for long.
As Kaminsky trudged through a hallway underneath AT&T Stadium, carrying his gear out for one last time, the always entertaining center yelled “On Wisconsin!”