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The night perfection died for Kentucky

The Wildcats were left shell-shocked after watching their season end in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis sat at adjoining lockers staring straight at the floor. Kentucky's perfect season had just ended to Wisconsin in the Final Four, and now the Wildcats' two youngest guards were being asked to explain exactly how it felt.

How do you think this team is going to be remembered?

Do you think this loss affects your legacy?

Can you put this feeling into words?

Does it feel real?

A team as dominant as Kentucky was never going to receive much sympathy for ultimately falling short of its goal, but in the moment the 5'9 Ulis and 18-year-old Booker didn't quite look like Goliath. Instead, they were heartbroken and inconsolable teenagers struggling to answer insoluble questions asked mostly by men old enough to be their fathers.

In another corner of the locker room sat Dominique Hawkins, his right hand going up and down his face as if he were attempting to wipe away the pain. Walk-on Sam Malone was a few feet away, eating a plate of mashed potatoes all by himself while taking in the scrum.

Cameras were flashing and recorders were beeping, but Kentucky's players didn't have much to say. How could they? Stunned silence felt like the only appropriate response for a team that had pulled out this exact type of game so many times before.

"What surprised me the most is that (Wisconsin) played the full game," Booker said. "A lot of teams we play crack with like 10 minutes to go, but they never did.

"I never felt like this team was going to lose until the final horn went off. That's been the moral of the story for us, teams stick around but eventually we pull out games. Today we didn't."

Kentucky's knack for finding victory in almost certain defeat came to define this team even before Booker and Ulis got to Lexington. A year ago, Aaron Harrison ended three straight games with dagger jumpers to push eighth-seeded Kentucky on an unlikely run to the championship game. On Saturday, those same shots rimmed out.

It would be hard to blame Kentucky for having trouble trying to process what just happened. They were called for three shot clock violations late in the second half. They lost the lead for the final time on a bucket by Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes that appeared to come after the end of the shot clock. There was a critical offensive foul called on Trey Lyles with under 90 seconds left on what looked like a flop from Sam Dekker.

Instead of preparing to face Duke on Monday, Kentucky is now left to parse the past during a season most spent trying to contextualize their present. They didn't become the first team to finish a season undefeated in over 40 years. They didn't win the national championship. They never would have played an NBA team either way. People who followed this team will know their impact, but this loss means it will be less quantifiable.

For most of the season, Kentucky's top-rated defense looked impenetrable. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein gave Kentucky a starting front court that really was bigger than every NBA team, and probably more athletic, too. No one had been able to consistently score one-on-one against Towns and Cauley-Stein all season long, but somehow Frank Kaminsky found a way in Indianapolis.

Kaminsky knew this position well. Just like last year, Kaminsky had torched Arizona in the Elite Eight to set up a meeting with the Wildcats in the Final Four. Last season, Kaminksy couldn't get his offense going even with Cauley-Stein sidelined by injury, finishing with only eight points on seven shots. It was a completely different story this year, as the senior and likely Wooden Award winner poured in 20 points, 11  rebounds and held his ground defensively against Kentucky's super human athletes.

Kentucky had played with fire so many times this season that it felt like they could do so time and time again without getting burned. The Wildcats went to overtime in their first two SEC games, but still pulled out wins against Texas A&M and Ole Miss. It was pushed to the brink by Notre Dame, but somehow found a way to get the scores and stops required to advance to the Final Four.

As Kentucky failed to get those stops against Wisconsin's No. 1 offense, it could no longer turn defense into easy baskets. When that happened, Kentucky's possessions often collapsed into a series of inefficient looks in the half court. It settled too often for long jumpers and failed to work the ball into Towns in the post late.

Towns was able to carry Kentucky against a smaller Notre Dame team in the last round, but Wisconsin succeeded in sealing that option and by forcing anyone else to beat them.

"We knew they weren't just gonna let Karl get a bunch of touches," Booker said. "They were laying off the entry man so Karl couldn't get the ball.

"Wisconsin did a good job of defending us. I don't think any other team has played us like that this year."

Minutes after the final buzzer sounded, Kentucky's most famous fan walked the hallways of Lucas Oil Stadium with a bodyguard. Ashley Judd had a slight smile on her face, but the disappointment was clear. All the while, people behind her shouted her name. It wasn't all that different from how Kentucky's players looked.

Few would seriously call John Calipari's team a disappointment. The history they made as the first team to ever start a season 38-0 might not be matched for years, if ever. Along the way, they rarely felt overhyped. On one night, in a single elimination tournament, Wisconsin was simply better. Sometimes, there's no point in really trying to explain it.