By Chris Emma–
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (CBS) — Slumped away in his locker stall, Karl-Anthony Towns hung his head. Devastation was only beginning to set in.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Colder And Blustery Sunday Night
Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection and attempt to be known as the greatest team in college basketball history came crashing down, crushed by the Wisconsin Badgers in a 71-64 Final Four thriller on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
All the pressure, the hype and the storylines surrounding this Kentucky team and its fight for 40-0 are over. The dream season is done. Forty minutes of sensational basketball in front of better than 72,238 fans ended so suddenly. Adrenaline was flowing for an entire incredible game, and then it ended with one final horn, leaving Towns and his teammates alone in their disbelief.
At Kentucky, the greats are remembered, but the champions are celebrated forever.
“They just had a historic year,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Don’t you look at anything else.”
Try telling that to the members of Big Blue Nation setting fires in Lexington.
The Wildcats are on the wrong side of history, going down as arguably the greatest team not to win the national championship. That one loss stands out more than the 38 wins and a remarkable run.
“It takes everything away,” freshman point guard Tyler Ulis said. “All the wins mean nothing.”
Questions followed in the press conference that build a false narrative. Mixed in with enough “talk about” questions to make blood boil were inquiries as to whether the Wildcats were overcome by the pressure of perfection.
Wisconsin was simply better than Kentucky on this given night. From birthday boy Frank Kaminsky — not a bad way to celebrate turning 22 — to the sensational Sam Dekker, Wisconsin earned this tremendous triumph.READ MORE: 5 Killed, 19 Wounded In Chicago Weekend Shootings
NBA-level talents put together an incredible show, bringing an exhillerating matchup down to the wire. In the end, the Kentucky team that had an answer to every test this season couldn’t match Wisconsin in the final minutes of the most important game it played.
Wisconsin’s favorite song, “Jump Around,” played through Lucas Oil Stadium as the raucous Badgers student section leapt through the air and rejoiced. On the opposite end of the court, a lone Kentucky fan sat amid hundreds of empty seats and cried away the desolation.
Only in the NCAA Tournament — with its inherent randomness and sudden results built into single-elimination contests — could two teams so similar in abilities be brought to such different emotions.
Taking the court against the unblemished Wildcats, the Badgers knew they would win. “Make ‘Em Believe” was printed on their Adidas warmups, appropriate for such a scene.
“Getting wins shouldn’t be surprising to us,” Dekker said after the victory.
The Wildcats knew they could lose, too, though they hadn’t experienced the agony in their first 38 tries. Surely, they were prepared for the possibility, though there’s no describing the pain when reality sets in.
“I’ve been doing this so long, I’ve had some tough losses and some unbelievable wins at the buzzers,” Calipari said. “It’s all part of this. My concern are these young people right here, making sure they keep this in the right perspective.”
The problem is, perspective is hard to find through such sorrow.
A near-perfect season for Kentucky came to a stunning end. Decades from now, the Wildcats will be known as the team that fell short of 40-0. Memories of a magical run will have long faded away.
Caught in the moment, the devastation was crippling.MORE NEWS: Celebrating Black History Makers: Terrance Wallace Has Brought 10 At-Risk Boys To Live Together In Barrington Hills For A New Life
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.