Wisconsin has won 35 of the 38 games it has played this season.
But it’s pretty clear that 39 games ago is still in the back of many of their minds.
It was on that night, the fifth day of April in the national semifinals in Arlington, Texas, that the Badgers dropped a heart-breaking 74-73 decision to Kentucky.
Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer with 5 seconds to play after Traevon Jackson had only been able to convert 2-of-3 free throws on the other end. The missed foul shot was the only free throw Wisconsin missed out of 20 in the game.
At the end, Jackson also had a good look at the buzzer but it was off target and the Wildcats advanced to the national title game.
But the end of that game still resonates with the Wisconsin players.
Sophomore guard Jordan Hill was on that team. Even though he is taking a redshirt year this season, Hill said he feels as if he knows the pulse of this Badger basketball team.
“I think we’re all still hurting from that game,’’ Hill said.
Hill said earlier Friday the team watched some scouting video of Kentucky. He said during the clips of each of the individual Wildcats players that shows their tendencies and what they like to do, the players saw Harrison hit the 3-pointer over the extended hands of Josh Gasser.
“Whenever someone from Kentucky made a good dunk in the clips we’d all say ‘Oh!’ or say something but as soon as we saw that shot leave (Harrison’s) hands everybody got real silent,’’ Hill said. “You could just tell that the tension in the room just increased.’’
Hill said he thinks it’s hard not to think about it when the Badgers are so close to being in the same situation again.
“We’re just that close to realizing our goal which is to win the national championship,’’ Hill said. “So you’re never going to forget something like that.’’
Most of the talk from the Wisconsin players Friday focused on what the Badgers need to do this time around to have a chance to beat Kentucky.
Wisconsin senior forward Frank Kaminsky said both teams have been very efficient this season.
“Our style of play this year has been fast-paced, but efficient at the same time,’’ Kaminsky said. “We’re a defensive minded team who can also score points. Kentucky is a great team. You’ve seen what they’ve done this season. They’re undefeated at this point. They have great players, a deep bench and a great coach so they’re going to be in every basketball game if not winning.’’
Redshirt sophomore Zak Showalter said the most challenging aspect of playing Kentucky is dealing with UK’s size and athleticism.
“We were watching them just a little bit ago and their guards are so good that if they can get past their defender they can just throw it up to their bigs and they’ll score,’’ Showalter said. “That’s tough to guard and we really haven’t faced anyone that size so it’s a big challenge.’’
Showalter was asked what he thought Kentucky would say when they were asked what worried them about Wisconsin?
“I think it would have to be Frank (Kaminsky),’’ Showalter said. “It’s just his ability to stretch from the three and then just be so aggressive under the basket and have so many ways to score it at the rim. I’m not sure how we guard Kentucky and I’m glad our team doesn’t have to worry about how to guard Frank.’’
Kaminsky said if the Badgers could find a way to win Saturday and then go on to take the national championship it would be a fairy tale type of story.
“It’s a great story,’’ Kaminsky said. “To talk about last year when we played them and the way we lost, then to come back and to beat them on the same stage would be a storybook ending almost. But our goal is to win a national championship, and we know we have to beat good teams if we’re going to do that. Arizona was a good team. North Carolina was a good team. Oregon was a good team.
“So it’s going to be a tough road and we’re looking at it as another very good opponent we have to beat if we want to accomplish one of our goals.’’