(1) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (1) Kentucky Wildcats (-5, 131 o/u)
When a team is chasing history, overcoming adversity tends to become commonplace. Such is the case for the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (38-0, 18-0 SEC), who narrowly defeated Notre Dame (68-66) last weekend in the Midwest Regional final. The Wildcats are hoping to become the first undefeated national champion in nearly 40 years.
If they are going to get to a historic 40-0 and win a national title, they’ll first have to take down the No. 1 seed from the West Region, the Wisconsin Badgers (35-3, 16-2 Big Ten), in the Final Four (8:49 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, April 4, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis).
Kentucky went back and forth with the Irish all game in their Elite Eight matchup and trailed 66-64 with just over a minute to play. After freshman Karl-Anthony Towns tied the game with a lay-up, Kentucky got a key stop and then sophomore Andrew Harrison sank a pair of free throws with six seconds left to put Kentucky up by two. The defense held the fort in the dying seconds, forcing Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant into a tough three-point attempt that failed to connect.
“We know our will to win,” said Harrison’s brother Aaron, who hit an important three-pointer down the stretch. “And it just showed us we never give up, and we fight to the end just like any other team.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari echoed Harrison’s comments.
“We didn’t play very well and Notre Dame, I thought, controlled the whole thing, but we made the plays,” said Calipari. “We figured out a way to win it. We’ve had other tests, but we have a will to win.”
The Wisconsin Badgers, meanwhile, made a little history of their own last weekend. The team’s 85-78 win over No. 2 Arizona put the Badgers into their second straight Final Four for the first time ever.
Leading the Badgers again were forwards Frank Kaminsky (29 points) and Sam Dekker (27 points). It seems all of Wisconsin was tuned into the epic Elite Eight rematch from 2014. “Incredible game,” tweeted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who also said that Dekker was “cold-blooded.”
Wisconsin got off to an early six-point lead, but found themselves trailing by three at the break. Kaminsky and Dekker outscored Arizona 11-1 to start the second half, though, and never surrendered the lead again in the final 20 minutes.
Badgers head coach Bo Ryan has been impressed with his team’s tenacity in the second halfs of games. “I’m so proud of these guys to be able to say that they’ve answered the bell in the second half in almost every game we’ve played here in the last seven to ten games. They’re a tough bunch, and I hope they don’t change.”
Don’t look for the Badgers to be intimidated by mighty Kentucky, which beat Wisconsin in the Final Four last year.
“That loss left a sour taste in our mouth, so we wanted to get back,” Dekker said. “As a team, we set some goals of what we wanted to do, and now, we’re two games away from our last goal.”
Look for Wisconsin to keep this game close, which is why the Badgers and the points (+5) is the play.
(Photo credit: Cmadler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)] via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)