ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Balanced scoring – check. Bench contributions – check. Clutch plays – check. Perfect free throw shooting – almost.
Wisconsin did nearly everything it needed to do Saturday night to beat Kentucky except for hitting one crucial free throw.
Ben Brust and Sam Dekker each scored 15 points, but Traevon Jackson missed a foul shot with 16 seconds left and the Badgers were left stunned after Aaron Harrison’s 3 from the wing with 5.7 seconds to play gave the Wildcats a 74-73.
It was the only free throw the Badgers missed all game, finishing a Final Four record 95 percent from the line, 19 of 20.
“That’s what you’re going to get in the Final Four: a one possession battle and unfortunately it just didn’t fall our way,” Brust said.
Jackson missed a jumper at the buzzer and the Badgers fell short in their quest for the school’s first national title since 1941.
This time, Wisconsin (30-8) lost out in another test of basketball tempos. Board-crashing Kentucky (29-10) dominated the paint and overcame the patient Badgers’ eight 3s.
The Wildcats ended one of the most successful seasons in Wisconsin history, starting with a 16-game winning streak and culminating at the Final Four.
“Our guys certainly had nothing to hang their heads about,” coach Bo Ryan said. “We played hard, we played smart all season. That’s how we ended up here.”
The Badgers withstood wave after wave of Kentucky players swooping in for dunks and tip-ins, only to get done in by a 3-pointer by Harrison.
Until then, the game still seemed to be going their way in spite of the overwhelming edge in athleticism for Kentucky and their band of NBA-bound talent. The Wildcats had a 46-24 edge on points in the paint.
Ryan had the final minute set up perfectly – a tight game with the ball in the hands of Jackson, the junior he’s trusted in such situations for countless games.
Jackson did his job in drawing a foul while attempting a 3.
Missed the first, hit the next two. It was just enough of an opening for Harrison to hit his game-winner.
The Badgers had effectively answered an earlier Kentucky punch that left them trailing by eight early in the second half
Backup forward Duje Dukan had a tip-in to help Wisconsin, and his 3 with 11:51 left had the Badgers back on top 56-55.
Reserve point guard Bronson Koenig scored 11 in filling in for foul-plagued Jackson in the first half. Frank Kaminsky was held to eight points – 10 below his tournament average – but chipped in four offensive rebounds that helped keep several possessions alive.
But in the end, Kentucky did what few other teams could during the last two months of the season in wearing down the Badgers inside before ending their season from the outside.