© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wisconsin's Dramatic Defeat Of Kentucky Is A Case Of Role Reversal


The big news in the sports world this morning is this - the Kentucky Wildcats did not finish the college basketball season undefeated. Last night at the Final Four in Indianapolis, Wisconsin beat Kentucky 71-64 in a dramatic, down to the wire showdown between number one seeds in the men's tournament. Kentucky was trying to become the first team since 1976 to finish with a perfect record. NPR's Tom Goldman was at the game. He brings us this story.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It would be easy to say this was the moment.


CROWD: (Cheering).

GOLDMAN: Indeed, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker's rainbow three-point shot broke a tie with less than two minutes left and it gave the Badgers a lead they never relinquished. But to be fair to a game as great as this, that was edge-of-your-seat exciting from the opening tip, Dekker's dagger has to include a little back-story. A few minutes earlier, Kentucky had taken a four-point lead after trailing by eight earlier in the half. Heartened by the swing on the score board, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said to himself, we're going to win this thing. All it would take, Calipari thought, is just another closing kick by his 38-0 Wildcats.


JOHN CALIPARI: We normally execute down the stretch. And we didn't, and they did.

GOLDMAN: Specifically, Wisconsin played the kind of defense that made Kentucky so fearsome throughout its unblemished season. After the Wildcats took that lead, Wisconsin forced three straight shot clock violations - meaning Kentucky's offense wasn't able to get off a shot in its allotted 35 seconds. Then, a little Wisconsin luck. A Badger's basket was allowed, even though the shot clock had expired. And after that, Dekker found an open space to hurl his dagger.


SAM DEKKER: I was waiting for a good look like that all night. When I had that look, I had to put it up and I knew it was good off the hand.

GOLDMAN: Good off the hand - spoken like a guy who's been hitting big shots since like that since he was a high school star in Wisconsin. But what felt good to Dekker as it left his hand didn't look good to Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison.


AARON HARRISON: No. But hey - I don't know, it went in, so that's all that matters.

GOLDMAN: Of course, the irony is that what Dekker did to Kentucky, Harrison did to Wisconsin in last year's Final Four. His three-pointer beat the Badgers by one, with a few seconds left. Kentucky couldn't follow that up with a win in the final, so now for a second year in a row it's an early exit for the most controversial head coach in the so-called one-and-done era of college basketball. John Calipari never apologizes for taking NBA-bound players and bringing them together for mostly a one-year pit stop in college. Last night he was resolute as ever about his strategy of taking high school stars and helping them become, in his words, servant leaders.


CALIPARI: What they did to show all the young kids, you don't have to try to shoot 30 balls - you can do right by your team and still be the number-one draft pick.

GOLDMAN: Dekker, a junior, and senior teammate Frank Kaminsky are NBA-bound as well. But the Badgers still have college business at hand - a meeting with Duke tomorrow night in the championship game, the first time Wisconsin will play for the title since 1941. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.