The Kentucky Wildcats' quest for perfection came to an end Saturday night at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin threw everything it had at Kentucky and more, eventually coming out on top in a 71-64 win. The Badgers move on to the national championship game for the first time since 1941 and will face Duke on Monday.
Kentucky took the lead at the 7:42 mark in the second half, capping off a 12-4 run, but Wisconsin snapped a cold shooting streak to tie things up with 2:35 left, and Dekker took the lead back with a huge three-pointer. The Badgers expanded the lead to three points with 24.5 seconds left and salted the game away with free throws, ending Kentucky's season at 38-1.
Kentucky jumped off to a fast 5-0 start with Willie Cauley-Stein throwing down one of his usual thunderous dunks, but Wisconsin quickly tied things up before the game got out of control. The teams traded baskets back-and-forth at a breakneck pace, and the Badgers took their first lead of the game at the 12:50 mark in the first half.
Wisconsin opened up the game with a 12-3 run, including a timely three-point shot from Frank Kaminsky that extended his team's lead to seven points. The Wildcats kept things relatively close for the rest of the first half and pulled off a 6-0 run to get within one point. Kentucky finally knotted things up again when Aaron Harrison scored a bucket and foul to tie the game at 32-32. The Wildcats briefly took the lead back with a monster dunk by Trey Lyles, but Bronson Koenig ended the first half on a high note for Wisconsin, draining a long two-pointer with one second left. The teams went into halftime tied up, 36-36.
The Badgers shot 46.4 percent in the first half, led by Kaminsky's nine points and five rebounds. Despite his best efforts, Wisconsin went on a cold streak with just two made field goals in the final six minutes before halftime and ultimately squandered its lead.
The second half was just as frenetic as the first, with both teams throwing haymakers early on. Kaminsky went white-hot, scoring seven of the Badgers' first 10 points at the start of the half and dominating on the boards. Wisconsin opened up an eight-point lead at the 14:41 mark, its biggest margin of the game. The Wildcats, as usual, refused to go away and pulled back within two points.
The Wildcats eventually took the lead and went up four. Unlike countless times this season, however, the Wildcats didn't finish off the game. Instead, Wisconsin ripped off an 8-0 run to re-take the lead. They wouldn't give it back and finished off the game strong at the free throw line.
SB Nation presents: Why Wisconsin has what it takes to win the 2015 NCAA Tournament
3 things we learned
1. Frank Kaminsky is the real deal
Kaminsky has already racked up plenty of postseason accolades, including the AP Player of the Year. He's earned even more attention after the way he dominated Kentucky in the post, scoring almost at will. Kaminsky finished the night with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, filling up the stat sheet with 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks, giving Towns and Cauley-Stein about all they could handle. Kaminsky vs. Duke's Jahlil Okafor should be the matchup of the year.
Sam Dekker was no slouch, with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and making some of the most crucial shots of the night.
2. Andrew Harrison picks up where the others left off
It was a quiet offensive night for Cauley-Stein, his opening dunk being the only points he scored all night. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Andrew Harrison had one of his better performances of the tournament. Harrison finished with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, grabbing two rebounds and dishing out four assists. Towns was the Wildcats' scoring leader with 16 points, but Harrison's perimeter presence helped them stay in the game. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for Kentucky to go 39-0.
3. This game was (almost) everything college basketball should be
The game has come under increasing criticism in recent years for its quality of play, poor offense and slow pace, among other things. Some of those criticisms are more valid than others, but Wisconsin and Kentucky showed us tonight how lovely the game can be when everything is clicking. We saw two of the best teams in the nation play their best basketball of the year, and the result was some thrilling action start to finish.
Unfortunately for fans, the game did indeed slow down towards the end, and questionable officiating decisions marred an otherwise excellent game. Still, it was a really fun game that reminded us how good college basketball can be sometimes.