The quest for a national title on top of an undefeated season for Kentucky ends, losing 71-64 to Wisconsin in the Final Four semifinal that was a repeat of last year’s encounter, only with very different consequences.
The officials seemed to be doing everything wrong in this game, hurting both teams with bad calls that killed and changed momentums. With the game tied at 56-56 Kentucky caught a break with an awful offensive foul call against the Badgers which allowed the Wildcats to grab a 2-point lead, but not hold on to it for very long. This wasn’t going to be 2014 on repeat.
Nigel Hayes, beyond his awe of beautiful women and his inability to shut up about it, is an excellent basketball player. With Kentucky leading by two points, he missed under the basket but grabbed the loose ball (which didn’t hit the rim so shot clock didn’t reset) and scored. Only the shot clock showed zero. The officials reviewed it, OK’d the basket, getting it wrong. There were other big mistakes going both ways.
Frank Kaminsky scored 20 points and Sam Dekker with another huge 3-pointer made most of the difference. Wisconsin shot 47.9% from the field and 41.2% from beyond the arc. They hardly turned the ball over (10 times) and spread the floor in a way that Kentucky hasn’t seen this season. They haven’t played against guys like Dekker and Kaminsky who can score from everywhere on the floor, while not letting the Kentucky size and athleticism really make the difference it usually does.
Wisconsin players grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and didn’t allow Kentucky to run the floor like they usually do. That made the difference. It’s just one game, which means it might be a bit much to start contemplating how playing in a weak SEC affected Kentucky in crunch time, but in a league and season that’s about the win-or-go-home tournament, especially for teams like Kentucky who think and dream big, it seemed that something about the preparation and adjustment was off.
No one really took this loss gracefully in Kentucky, maybe except for John Calipari. Andrew Harrison was caught mumbling profanities in the postgame conference, perhaps about Frank Kaminsky or maybe about the reporter who dared ask a question about a player who had just beat a team that probably believed it is truly unbeatable. Kentucky fans never take losing lightly, and it showed in the riots in Lexington.
This was a great season for Kentucky and a very unique group of players, with most of them gone next season. John Calipari isn’t going to be able to pull off another “miracle” of holding back an entire class because these guys were just too good for almost an entire year to ignore the NBA calling them. But in the weird way memory works, this season will be remembered for that one loss in Indianapolis, and not their dominance throughout the regular season.
Wisconsin show that building a team in the old fashioned way still works. It means recruiting talented players, but developing them slowly and waiting two or three years before a team peaks. Bo Ryan wasn’t far from going all the way last season but a surprising Kentucky team got in the way. This time the challenge was greater, but Wisconsin were better as well. The road traveled to this point makes it even sweeter.