College basketball fans had been wanting to see Kentucky and Wisconsin square off seemingly all season, and the showdown – a 71-64 Final Four win for the Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday – more than lived up to the billing.
“The energy for the game was fantastic in the dome the whole time,” CBS Sports college basketball writer Jerry Palm said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Kentucky got the lead (with) about three minutes to go. They end up with a two-possession lead, I think, at the last timeout. All of the momentum felt like it had gone Kentucky’s way and then Wisconsin gets three straight defensive shot clock possessions – which I don’t think I’ve ever seen – and (Sam) Dekker hits the three. All of a sudden, Kentucky’s fans – which were the majority of the fans there – you could tell the end was setting in for them. They could feel it. We could all feel it. The Wisconsin fans were going crazy. When the end came, there was just this incredible sense of disbelief among the Kentucky fans that also poured into the streets of Indianapolis after the game.”
Frank Kaminsky (20 points), Dekker (16), Nigel Hayes (12) and Bronson Koenig (12) all scored double figures for the Badgers, who dominated Kentucky on the boards 34-22 and handed the Wildcats their first loss in almost one calendar year.
Wisconsin (36-3) plays Duke (34-4) for the national championship Monday at 9:18 p.m. ET. The Badgers haven’t won it all in more than 70 years, but one Badger phoned Amy Lawrence and said that Monday’s result does not matter; Wisconsin beat Kentucky, and that’s all that matters.
What do we make of that sentiment?
“I think that his feeling will be different tonight if they don’t win,” Palm said. “I think he’ll feel differently about it. When you get to this point – you’ve got one more game to win and you’re the national champion, your first national championship since 1941 – I think you feel differently about it if you get beat tonight.”
The game will likely hinge on the play of Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, arguably the top two players in college basketball this season. Kaminsky, in fact, was named player of the year, while Okafor will likely be taken with the first or second overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
“Those two in the paint, I don’t know if I’ll even be watching the ball unless it’s in the paint tonight on either end of the floor,” Palm said. “I don’t really care what the guards are doing. I want to watch those two guys go at it for 40 minutes.”
Palm expects a tight game but not tight players, especially for Wisconsin. The Badgers have slayed North Carolina, Arizona and Kentucky – and have seemed utterly unflappable in the process.
“They’re loose,” Palm said. “They’re not taking it too seriously. There’s no pressure on Wisconsin. They’re not feeling the pressure. I’ll be surprised if they look like they’re feeling the pressure tonight. They’re on quite a run. They know it to some degree, that they’re on this run, but this is a really talented team. I just think overall this is a great matchup.”