Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, April 5, 2015
INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Dekker pumped his fist, waved his hands to the Wisconsin cheering section, and let out a big smile.
[ MORE: Get all of our NCAA tournament coverage ]
It takes a lot to take down college basketball's premier program, but Wisconsin did it. It takes a lot to beat a team that features nine McDonald's All Americans, but Wisconsin did it. It takes a lot to prevent history from happening, while making some history of your own, but Wisconsin did it.
Dekker and the Badgers accomplished what no other team could accomplish this season, beating Kentucky, 71-64, on Saturday night in a Final Four matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium. The unforgettable victory put an end to the Wildcats' pursuit for perfection.
"I never talked about breaking a streak or beating a team that was unbeaten," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said following the game. "It was all about what these guys could do to get 40 more minutes."
What they did is beat Kentucky at its own game, something that seemed unfathomable at times this season. The Badgers out-rebounded Kentucky 34-22, they shut down All-American Willie Cauley-Stein, and, most importantly, when the game was on the line in the final minutes, they remained calm and came through in the clutch.
It was a complete team effort on Wisconsin's part, as player after player stepped up to the moment.
There was sophomore point guard Bronson Koenig, who stepped to the free-throw line with 12 seconds to go in the game and knocked down two huge free throws to put the Badgers up 68-64.
There was Frank Kaminsky, who had a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds, and it came on his 22nd birthday.
"It's the best present I've ever had," Kaminsky said. "We were just tough from start to finish."
And then there was Dekker, who hit a game-changing 3-pointer with 1:42 to go, which broke a 60-60 tie and put the Badgers on top for good.
"When I had that look, I knew I had to put it up," Dekker said. "I knew it was good off the hand."
Many believed it would be Kentucky chasing history on Monday night, but it's Wisconsin advancing to its first national championship game since winning the title back in 1941.
"We knew that if we wanted to achieve our ultimate goal, we were probably going to have to play Kentucky and we were going to have to beat Kentucky," Wisconsin senior guard Josh Gasser said. "We expected to win this game."
The Badgers will take on No. 1-seeded Duke on Monday night in the national championship game. The Blue Devils handed Wisconsin one of its three loses this season on Dec. 3.
A lot has changed since then, and according to Ryan, he's already shifted his focus to the game.
"This win gives us another 40 minutes," Ryan said. "Mike (Krzyzewski)'s team has played so well down the stretch, and I think my team will play pretty well.
"It should be a good game Monday night."
Clear your schedule, Big Ten fans. We should be in for a classic.
The tale of the tape for the national title game Monday night. pic.twitter.com/JBUSmnEllt— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 5, 2015