By Andrew Kahn
If your bracket wasn’t already busted, it probably is now. Kentucky, the overwhelming favorite to win it all, lost in its Final Four rematch with Wisconsin on Saturday night, 71-64. In the night’s first game, Duke ended Michigan State’s improbable run with an 81-61 victory. The Blue Devils and Badgers play for the title tonight at 9:18 p.m. ET on CBS.
Badgers Beat The Unbeaten
All season—for a few seasons, really—Wisconsin has been great at not fouling (first in the country), not turning it over (first), and keeping teams off the offensive glass (fourth). The Badgers had their highest turnover rate since early December but otherwise stuck to the script against Kentucky: the Wildcats only shot 10 free throws and grabbed just six offensive rebounds, normally areas of strength for them. National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, who turned 22 on Saturday, and Sam Dekker were awesome again, combining to shoot 13 of 20 for 36 points and making the big plays down the stretch.
Kentucky hadn’t been on the wrong side of a game all season, and the Wildcats didn’t handle it very well. The TV feed showed Willie Cauley-Stein walking off the court without shaking hands with the Badgers, and reportedly Andrew and Aaron Harrison and some other Wildcats did the same. Once at the press conference, Andrew Harrison’s derogatory muttering was picked up by his microphone. The phrase “act like you’ve been there before” usually applies to winners, but in this case it’s the Kentucky players who literally had no experience dealing with a loss this season.
Duke has been playing at a very high level throughout the Tournament, particularly on the defensive end. After allowing a few early three-pointers, the Blue Devils clamped down and led by 11 at half. They pushed it to 17 by the first media timeout of the second half and never let it get closer than 13. Jahlil Okafor was dominant inside and proved once again he can’t be guarded one-on-one. He scored 18 on 7 of 11 shooting and got the Michigan State frontcourt into foul trouble. Justise Winslow slashed his way to 19 points. Duke was 2 of 10 from deep.
Spartans’ Run Ends
The Spartans hit their first four threes and led 14-6. Things didn’t go so well after that. Forwards Gavin Schilling, Matt Costello, Branden Dawson, and Marvin Clark, Jr. all finished with four fouls. Former walk-on Colby Wollenman had played just five minutes in Michigan State’s previous three games, but was counted on for 10 on Saturday. Bryn Forbes, a bright spot off the bench during this Tournament run, was 0 for 4. Michigan State loses Dawson and Travis Trice, but this Final Four appearance once again reminded us that a Tom Izzo team shouldn’t be overlooked.
Title Game Preview
Wisconsin avenged last year’s Final Four loss to Kentucky and will try to avenge another tonight. On Dec. 3rd, Duke went into Madison for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge and came away with an 80-70 win. The Blue Devils shot 71 percent in the second half of that game and Tyus Jones was sensational. The teams looked different back then. Duke had Rasheed Sulaimon, who scored 14 that night. Wisconsin got 25 points in 32 minutes from Traevon Jackson, who has played just 9, 7, and 12 minutes in the last three games since returning from a broken foot. Dekker and Nigel Hayes combined for just nine points, but Dekker was dealing with an ankle injury. Okafor’s ability to defend Kaminsky away from the basket will be key, and the Dekker-Winslow match-up should be fascinating. Mike Krzyzewski and Duke are going for their fifth national title. Bo Ryan and Wisconsin are seeking their first.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.