The Badgers made history, beating the unbeaten. They found catharsis for their fans, avenging the heartbreaker that shredded their last season. And they’ve earned opportunity, getting to play in one more game. The only game left.
The Badgers (36-3) took down Kentucky, who is now 38 and done, by a score of 71-64. Duke awaits in the national championship, but that’s not going to stop every Badger fan in the country from ingraining the memory of Saturday night in their minds for as long as humanly possible.
Think back to one year ago, as Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison released a 25-footer over an outstretched Josh Gasser and sank what was then a dream season for the Badgers.
Think about Kentucky’s status entering the game, the undefeated juggernaut with a black hole of five-star athletes amassed in the interior. The team that beat them would hoist the memory in every montage and program for the rest of its history.
The Wisconsin players weren’t thinking about that. They might, in the future. But for now, it’s all eyes on their original goal: a national championship.
“Last year's game obviously was motivation, not because of Kentucky, but just 'cause of how far we got,” junior forward Sam Dekker said. “You know, that was a hump we wanted to get over. It didn't matter who was in front of us. We just wanted to get a chance to play for the national title. We set those goals out before the season."
Koenig: We knew we had a chance to attain our goal and that goal is a national championship. pic.twitter.com/oplzeCFuS9— DailyCardinal Sports (@Cardinal_Sports) April 5, 2015
Entering the game, Kentucky and Wisconsin were each nationally elite in their own categories. Kentucky was the best defense in the country, and a juggernaut on the boards and interior defense. Wisconsin was the best offense in the country, and among the best in shooting and taking care of the ball. It was strength on strength, and there is no question who won the battle.
The Badgers eviscerated one of the great defenses in college basketball history to the tune of 1.258 points per possession. They outrebounded the tallest team in the country 34-22. They closed out a game against a team that always found a way to wake up and pull through. They did it playing the style of ball that brought them to the Final Four.
“Whether we're down six or up 20, we're going to be us and we're going to play our game,” Dekker said. “We got down today a little bit, but we didn't change our expression, we didn't change what we did, we didn't freak out. We knew if we played our game, we'd get back into it, come back, crawl back. We're not surprised we were in this situation. This is something we've been talking about since day one this season. Look where we are now.”
It was an even game until the final minute, both teams trading blows and pushing their fans to erupt in cheers. At halftime, it was tied 36-36. With eight minutes left, 56-56. With two minutes remaining, 60-60. From there the Badgers could not be stopped, scoring on every possession and closing out what could go down as the biggest win in school history.
It’s an accomplishment that came to the surprise of many, but not the team itself. This was the goal: surpass what they achieved last year and win the program’s first national title since World War II. Some were jubilant, others teared up. Traevon Jackson was one of the latter.
“It is truly a blessing, it is amazing” Jackson said with his eyes red. “We have been playing for this the whole year and [the Lord’s] word never lies. We are here. We made it.”
“We came in here believing we could win, and we did it.”
State Street flooded with celebrating students after the final buzzer sounded, and that water could rise one more time. Duke awaits with a trophy lying behind it. The champion will be decided Monday night, with tip set for 8:18 p.m.
But for now, there’s enough accomplishment to swim through, because, again, Wisconsin just took down Kentucky. Let that sink in.