Congratulations to the Wisconsin Badgers for defeating a Kentucky Wildcats team that many people across the country thought were (presumably) “unbeatable.”The big-play ability from the Badgers’ senior Frank Kaminsky and junior Sam Dekker down the stretch separated the two teams in a rather convincing 71-64 victory.
Their veteran presence surely helped in the waning minutes.
When the Wildcats started to feel confident in their game down the stretch, Dekker had other plans. Tied at 60 apiece at the 1:44 mark, Dekker sunk a step-back three-pointer to gain the lead. A lead the Badgers hung onto until the final buzzer.
“I knew at that point we needed to get some type of offense going, and so I got the ball and called Frank for the ball screen — and he’s so good in those situations — so [when] we got [Karl-Anthony] Towns on his heels, you know, he thought I was going to drive, but it opened up a wide open step back [jump-shot three-pointer],” Dekker said.
“I love having the ball in crunch [time] situations, that’s something I thrive for, and when I knew it was good it gave us the lead.”
Frank the Tank, the nickname he’s been better known for as of late, recorded a double double; he shot 7-for-11 from the field, scored 20 points and had two blocks in the contest.
Dekker, the game’s MVP, shot 6-of-9 totaling 16 points.
Ultimately, the Badgers’ efforts in outscoring the Wildcats in second-chance points helped them win the bout. A category Kentucky has dominated throughout this season with their big seven-footers in Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns winning most of the balls off the glass.
The amount of fight and big-play ability down the stretch made it seem as though the Wildcats traded places with the Badgers. The destined-to-make-history Wildcats were supposed to create those last-minute turnovers and big shots, right?
An Idea Became A Reality
‘Twas an exciting finish for the Wildcats to come out on top 68-66 over the Fighting Irish in the Midwest Regional Final, but an idea popped into the heads of the players and their highly-optimistic head coach, John Calipari.
An idea that would help the Badgers win the mental aspect of their dogfight against Kentucky. A part in sports most fans, players and even coaches fail to recognize. The idea that after the Wildcats narrowly escaped Notre Dame, they thought for the first time this season that they could be defeated. And all the talk about the 40-0 Kentucky team would go down the drain.
Well, as we all know, it actually happened. The idea or thought of losing crept into the minds of Kentucky and it got the best of them on Saturday night.
There Was More Basketball to be Played
The Wildcats had faced pressure in games this season. Meaning the road to 38 wins wasn’t exactly as straight as an arrow.
On Jan. 6, Kentucky defeated Ole Miss in overtime by three points, 89-86. Four days later, Texas A&M gave the Wildcats some trouble by sending the game into double overtime. However, like all great teams do, the ‘Cats left with a 70-64 win over the Aggies. Then on Feb. 10, LSU recorded a 22-2 run to put the Tigers ahead of the ‘Cats 66-60. However, the Tigers failed to hold on to the six-point lead as Kentucky escaped the Tigers 71-69.
No More Basketball to be Played
The difference between the close wins the ‘Cats recorded above and the close victory over the Fighting Irish is there was more basketball to be played. Their season was nowhere near over, and at that point, Calipari didn’t even care about keeping their winning streak alive, but to better his team.
“I’m not worried about losing,” at this point in the season, said Calipari, following their win over LSU, improving to 24-0 at the time. “This is about us getting better.”
Now Calipari, being the great coach that he is, probably should have called a timeout at some point during the Tigers’ 22-2 run that put them ahead, but he refused. He wanted to see how his players would react without telling them what they needed to do. A great technique to use, because rarely would any coach ever do that. However, Calipari isn’t your average coach.
The Wildcats knew after a close win over the Tigers and Calipari’s stance on making them play it out themselves would make the team stronger throughout the rest of the season. It did, and the ‘Cats went on to outscore their next 10 opponents 783:582.
Calipari’s message rang true in his player’s hearts and minds. However, the young Wildcats seemed to have forgotten the message as the NCAA Tournament pressed on.
The Forgotten Message
The young players on Kentucky’s team this season have one disadvantage to their game that Wisconsin has by default. Wisconsin doesn’t forget.
If memory serves them, last season’s Final Four matchup between the Wildcats and the Badgers was a thriller as well. Kaminsky’s post-game press conference with the Big Ten Network displayed the emotional time for the 6’11 big man. He stooped his head in disappointment as his team lost by a lone point, 74-73 in the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“We’ve been to the Final Four now, and this will only give us motivation for next year,” Kaminsky said, failing to make eye contact with anything but the floor outside of the court.
Frank the Tank and his fellow Badgers did not forget last year’s feeling of utter disbelief as they were sent packing.
For Kentucky, they were on to the National Championship without a care in the world for the Badgers. However, the Wildcats ended up losing by ironically six points to the University of Connecticut Huskies, 60-56. Funny how things like that work.
Badgers Must Give Thanks to the Irish
The Badgers are now one game away from making a little bit of history of their own. For the first time since 1941, the Badgers are headed back to the title game.
However, prior to the game’s start, the Badgers owe the Fighting Irish a thank you; because after the Wildcats edged the Irish, the players in the Kentucky blue, the optimistic coach and even the whole country knew the Badgers had the best shot at taking down the “unbeatable” Wildcats.
They did so in magical fashion.
History Could Be Made
Many think the Wildcats failed to repeat history. The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers are the only team to complete the perfect season. However, the Badgers, if they defeat the Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship game, it will be the first title win in 76 years.
Sports are Funny
Much like the USA’s Men’s Hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympic games, the Soviets were expected to handedly defeat the Americans. However, our bordering Canada gave the Soviets their toughest challenge just two days before, losing 6-4. The Americans knew of their battle against the Canadians and later shocked the world, defeating the Soviets in the Olympic Final. The Americans knew before the puck dropped that the Soviets could in fact fall.
When Eli Manning faced a perfect 18-0 Tom Brady-led New England Patriots team in 2007, he also knew they only won by nine points over the San Diego Chargers, 21-12. Manning led his New York Giants to a 17-14 defeat over the “unbeatable” Patriots after knowing they could fall as well.
Wisconsin’s Mental Toughness
Sports are far more than just physical talent. In fact, it’s more mental than physical by far. History proves it; and thanks to the mental toughness the Badgers displayed against the Wildcats, they sought and gained revenge on a forgetful opponent.
Today, the Badgers have a chance to write their own name in the history books tonight as they take on the Duke Blue Devils.