On Saturday night, Duke defeated Michigan State 81–61, and then Wisconsin ended Kentucky’s dream of a perfect season. In the first national semifinal, Duke used tenacious defense to stop the Spartans, who got off to a quick start and led 14–6 after the first media timeout.
Then the Blue Devils stepped up and took control of the game. It seemed like there was a lid on the basket preventing the Spartans from scoring. Once Duke took the lead, they never looked back and finished with a convincing 20-point victory.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Duke forward Marshall Plumlee afterward. “I am so happy, and I have great teammates.”
Duke has fought back many times this season. “We have been through a lot this year; we know how to take a punch,” said guard Matt Jones.
The season wasn’t a waste for Michigan State, the only non-No. 1 seed in Indianapolis. Even though seventh-seeded Spartans lost 11 games during the regular season, they still made the Final Four. Their defense powered them through the tournament but couldn’t stop the Blue Devils.
Wisconsin pulled off the upset of the undefeated Wildcats with a 71–64 victory. The Badgers were led by Frank Kaminsky, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. He also hit a few important free throws late in the game that helped secure the win.
Kentucky was led by Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 16 points and 9 rebounds. The Wildcats tied the NCAA record for wins in a season with 38.
It was definitely a letdown for the Wildcats, who had their eyes on an undefeated season and a national title. They had one of the youngest teams in the country, though, and they still put together a magical run that captivated fans across the U.S.
The score was tied 11 times, and there were seven lead changes during the game. Wisconsin made eight free throws in the final 1:06 to seal the win, and as senior forward DujeDukan said, “After Bronson Koenig hit his two free throws late in the game, the tides turned.”
The Wisconsin locker room was buzzing with excitement after the game. The players spoke about the game they just played and also looked forward to the game against Duke on Monday night.
Guard Zak Showalter said it was “a dream come true” to play in the national championship game. “We tried not to let them beat us on the offensive boards,” he said, and the strategy worked: Wisconsin out-rebounded Kentucky 12–6 on the offensive glass.
Can Wisconsin win its first NCAA title since 1941, or will the Duke Blue Devils win their second championship in the last five years? We will know Monday night.
Photos: StreeterLecka/Getty Images (Kaminsky), Andy Lyons/Getty Images (Jones)