BOZICH | Wisconsin over Kentucky -- team over talent - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Wisconsin over Kentucky -- team over talent

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INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) – An amazing line of college basketball coaches stood in the front row at Lucas Oil Stadium, captivated by the sight of the Wisconsin basketball players jumping, hugging and dancing.

Consider it the official punctuation the Badgers had delivered an imperfect ending to Kentucky's perfect season.

There was Jim Calhoun, the Hall of Famer, who won three national titles at Connecticut.

He was flanked by San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who won the 1989 NCAA title at Michigan, and John Beilein, the current Michigan coach. Tom Crean of Indiana and Lon Kruger of Oklahoma were also tucked in the front row.

The scoreboard – Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 64 – told a story that demanded an obvious question:

Shocking?

Calhoun was eager to tackle that one: “Not at all. I picked Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the better team. Kentucky has more talent. But Wisconsin is the better team.”

There it was, that tricky “T” word – team, not talent.

“I'd never seen Wisconsin in person until today,” Fisher said. “What a tough, hard-nosed group. They deserve a lot of praise.”

The Badgers certainly do, especially for the way they performed at winning time, outscoring the Wildcats 15-4 over the final 4 ½ minutes when it appeared nobody was in control on the UK bench.

The Badgers were better coached, grinding Kentucky into six straight empty possessions (at least two via shot clock violations) after John Calipari made the curious decision to tap the brakes on his team's offense by shaving time off the clock. His team settled for contested shots, several missing the rim.

Instead of putting the Badgers away with that strategy, Kentucky put the Badgers in the NCAA championship game Monday night against Duke. The 38-0 season-long run turned into 38-and-one mammoth question mark.

What happened?

“We weren't necessarily intimidated,” Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said. “We knew we were a different style team. For the most part, we kept them out of transition and kept them off the glass. We didn't give them too much easy stuff.”

There was a stretch when Calipari appeared to be more interested in coaching the officials than he was in telling his guards to make certain that center Karl-Anthony Towns touched the basketball on every possession.

Calipari complained about so many calls that John Higgins, one of the officials, went to the UK bench mid-way through the second half and told him that was enough. No more.

So instead of complaining, Calipari stood on the court and clapped his hands in exaggerated joy whenever a call went against his team. Better, perhaps, to worry about feeding Towns, a guy who figures to be the first pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Towns is clearly Kentucky's finest offensive weapon, the guy who saved the Wildcats from defeat after they trailed late in games they pulled out against Georgia and Notre Dame.

It was a basket by Towns, his seventh, that pushed the Wildcats ahead, 60-56, with 6 ½ minutes to play.

Kentucky missed its next five shots.

Karl-Anthony Towns did not take any of them.

He scored his 16th and final point by making one of two free throws with 16 seconds to play, cutting Wisconsin's lead to 66-64. By then, Kentucky was already on the ropes, wobbling from the Badgers' body blows.

On defense, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan had eased his guards back from the perimeter. If the Badgers were going to lose, they were not going to be defeated by Towns. Ryan wanted Kentucky's guards to do the decisive work.

They could not -- not during the final 6 1/2 minutes.

Aaron Harrison missed one shot. Trey Lyles missed one. 

Andrew Harrison missed three, which might explain why Harrison uttered an expletive as well as a version of the N-word at the post-game podium when asked a question about Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky after the game. (Harrison later said on Twitter that he had called Kaminsky to apologize.)

“We just couldn't get a basket to go,” said UK guard Aaron Harrison, whose big shots had saved Kentucky so many times.

“Coach really emphasized moving our feet,” said Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig. “We did a really good job of that. Then our bigs did a good job of making it tough for them to throw the ball inside.”

Wisconsin played like a team that had been waiting 364 days for payback. As Kentucky missed seven of its final eight shots, Wisconsin made three of its next five to shoot ahead, 63-60. Even ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, a friend of Calipari, questioned Kentucky's defensive strategy on Twitter. Fraschilla said his decision to have Kentucky switch on screens put the Wildcats into too many mismatches.

The Badgers then closed the game out at the line, making seven free throws in the final 66 seconds.

Looking for other peculiarities that put the one in Kentucky's 38-1 record?

You can certainly find them in the box score. Wisconsin outrebounded the Wildcats by a dozen, limiting UK to six offensive rebounds, one in the first half. That suggested which team played with a winning edge.

Kentucky lost even though the Wildcats made better than 48 percent of its field goal attempts and committed only six turnovers.

Willie Cauley-Stein was a no-show, contributing two points and no offensive boards.

“In our minds (one loss) takes away a lot,” Towns said. “We couldn't get it done.”

On this night, on this stage, team indeed trumped talent.

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