Breakdown: No.1 Wisconsin vs. No.1 Kentucky

Winners of the West Regional for the second straight season, No.1 Wisconsin takes on the top seed from the Midwest Regional, the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, tonight in the national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup and how Wisconsin need to win the battle of the boards.

No.1 Wisconsin (35-3, 16-2 Big Ten) vs. No.1 Kentucky (38-0, 18-0 SEC)

Date/Time - Saturday, April 4, 7:49 p.m. Central

Arena – Lucas Oil Stadium (71,932) – Indianapolis

Television - TBS (Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson)

Wisconsin-Focused Broadcast - TruTV (Wayne Larrivee, Mike Kelley and Phil Dawson)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

National Radio - Westwood One (Kevin Kugler, Clark Kellogg and Jim Gray)

Series – Kentucky leads 4-1 (Kentucky leads 2-1 on neutral court)

Last Meeting – Kentucky won, 74-73, on April 5, 2014 in Arlington, Texas

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 12.4 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 13.9 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 6.9 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 8.6 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 18.7 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 2.1 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-3 Senior Guard, 9.4 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 4.9 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 1.9 ppg)

Kentucky Probable Starters

2 Aaron Harrison (6-6 Sophomore Guard, 11.0 ppg)

5 Andrew Harrison (6-6 Sophomore Guard, 9.2 ppg)

12 Karl-Anthony Towns (6-11 Freshman Forward, 10.1 ppg)

15 Willie Cauley-Stein (7-0 Junior Forward, 9.1 ppg)

41 Trey Lyles (6-10 Freshman Forward, 8.7 ppg)

Off the Bench

0 Marcus Lee (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 2.7 ppg)

1 Devin Booker (6-6 Freshman Guard, 10.1 ppg)

3 Tyler Ulis (5-9 Freshman Guard, 5.6 ppg)

44 Dakari Johnson (7-0 Sophomore Center, 6.5 ppg)

Last Meeting

ARLINGTON, Texas - A little softer bounce off the glass wouldn’t have caused the tears to run down the cheeks of so many players inside the University of Wisconsin locker room. A better bounce here or there over the final three minutes would have meant the Badgers would be playing for their first national title in 73 years.

The end to the magical ride was going to come this weekend regardless for Wisconsin, but the Badgers just assumed it would have ended better than this. In reality, any other scenario would have been better than the one they had to endure.

In a game where neither team led by more than nine points and the second half resembled more of a heavyweight title fight than the national semifinals, Wisconsin’s final six seconds saw them endure Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3-pointer and Traevon Jackson’s potential winner bounce away, recipe for the 74-73 heartbreaker to No.8 Kentucky they were coping with as they sulked to the locker room, away from the NCAA-record 79,444 fans at AT&T Stadium that had witnessed a classic.

“You’re agonizing close to making history, and then it’s over,” said assistant coach Gary Close. “It will hurt for awhile.”

Wisconsin (30-8) was in prime position to be representatives of the right side of the bracket, had Jackson hit the same kind of shot he has been known to make throughout his entire career. The stage was set for him because of Aaron Harrison – one of Kentucky’s five freshmen starters – hitting a deep 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.

It was a dagger, considering Jackson went 2-for-3 from the foul line seconds earlier – the only free-throw miss on 20 attempts for UW – and Josh Gasser, Wisconsin’s best defensive player, was right there defending.

“Obviously it was a huge dagger,” said Duje Dukan, who scored eight points off the bench in the second half to reinvigorate UW. “It’s a blow to your confidence and everything. When you are working so hard, you’re up two and really the game is in your hands, you just have to play solid defense. The kid hit a hell of a shot.”

“It looked like he was going to drive it,” added a red-eyed Gasser, “kind of pulled it right in the face and made a tough shot.”

Driving up the floor with time ticking down, Jackson got the separation he wanted from Aaron Harrison but his attempt off the glass was a touch too hard, bouncing off the right side of the rim and toward the court as the horn sounded and the Wildcats’ dog piled at center court.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Last Time Out

LOS ANGELES - Dekker’s contested 3-pointer – three of his 20 points in the second half – with 17.6 seconds left was the dagger and the final piece of a spectacular second half for Wisconsin, which shot the lights out on their way to a 85-78 victory over two-seed Arizona in the West Regional finals at the Staples Center.

An event that resembled more of a heavyweight title fight between two punchers in their prime, Dekker’s 27 points earned him West Regional Most Outstanding Player honors, and he didn’t even lead the Badgers in scoring.

Senior Frank Kaminsky scored 29 points (an NCAA tournament career high) and senior Josh Gasser added 10, as both earned West Regional All-Tournament Team honors and celebrated together.

After shooting only 38.5 percent in the first half, missing 16 of its 26 shots, Wisconsin couldn’t miss returning from the locker room. The Badgers shot 15 of 19 (78.9 percent), hit 10 of 12 3-pointers (83.3 percent) and scored 55 points.

Arizona (34-4) entered the game ranked third in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and holding opponents to only 59 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting, but the Wildcats couldn’t stop the Badgers from attacking the rim and opening up their offense.

“You go up and down the lineups with the matchups, I thought it was almost even because of how physical they are and how big they are,” said associate head coach Greg Gard, as UW averaged 1.67 points per possession in the second half. “You have two teams that mirror each other pretty well. It was a matter that we were able to make some shots and get hot.”

Dekker was quiet in the first half (2-for-5, 7 points) along with the rest of the Wisconsin offense. Kaminsky had 13 points, but needed 13 shots to get there, and no other player had more than three points. UW trailed at halftime for the fourth time in the last six tournament games.

It’s turning out that’s right where UW wants teams, as the Badgers’ nine wins when trailing at halftime in the NCAA tournament is the most in the country since 2002.

After Kaminsky got Wisconsin going at the start of the half, scoring 8 of UW’s first 11 points, Dekker took over. He hit all six of the shots he took, all five of the 3-pointers he attempted and fed off his teammate’s hot perimeter shooting to start driving into the paint when the Wildcats were forced to extend their defense.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

The Badgers and Wildcats have met just twice since 1976, with both coming in the NCAA tournament. In addition to last season’s contest, Kentucky pulled out a 63-57 win at the 2003 Sweet 16 in Minneapolis.

Wisconsin has quite a history playing in Indianapolis. The Badgers participated in the 2000 Final Four in Indy, playing at the RCA Dome vs. Michigan State.

UW has also participated in 9 Big Ten tournaments in Indianapolis, winning championships at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in both 2004 and 2008.

The Badgers are 8-8 all-time in the city of Indianapolis, going 8-7 in the Big Ten tournament games and 0-1 in NCAA tournament games.

The Wisconsin football team has also claimed a pair of championships at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Badgers won the 2011 Big Ten Championship with a 42-39 win over Michigan State and then claimed the 2012 Big Ten Championship with a 70-31 rout of Nebraska. The Badgers also participated in the 2014 Big Ten Championship, falling to Ohio State.

Wisconsin is 2-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament vs. No. 1 seeds, knocking off top-seeded Arizona in both 2000 and 2014.

The Badgers are also 2-19 all-time against team ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, like this year’s Kentucky team. Wisconsin’s two wins over AP No. 1 teams came in the form of a 71-67 win over Ohio State in 2011 and an 86-67 win over Ohio State in 1962.

Bo Ryan-led teams are 1-6 all-time vs. AP No. 1 teams. One of those losses came at the hands of top-ranked Kentucky, 63-57, in the 2003 Sweet 16.

Wisconsin Notes

According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, UW is the nation’s No. 1 offense, averaging 127.5 points per 100 possessions. During conference play, UW ranked 2nd in the Big Ten in scoring (70.3 ppg) and tops in shooting (47.7 percent). Among teams that have played at least 2 NCAA tournament games, UW leads the field averaging 80.5 ppg.

Wisconsin is 36-7 (.837) away from home over the last two seasons (20-2 this season), owning the most road/neutral wins and the best win percentage away from home among major conference teams.

Wisconsin is one of just 10 schools to make 3 or more trips to the Final Fours since 2000, trailing only Michigan State (6), Kentucky (4), Duke (4), UConn (4), UNC (4), Florida (4) and Kansas (4).

Wisconsin is 22-2 against the NCAA’s official RPI top 100 this season, including 12 wins over the top 50. Only Kentucky (25) has more wins over teams ranked in the top 100.

Over the last five seasons, the Badgers have had single-digit turnovers in 127 of their 180 games (70.6 percent). That’s the most such games of any program in the nation over that span. Michigan has the second-highest total among major conference teams with 82 - 45 fewer games than Wisconsin.

Kentucky Notes

Kentucky is the first team in college basketball history to go 38-0, and the third program to win an NCAA record 38 games in a single season. UK joins Calipari’s 2008-09 Memphis team and his 2011-12 national championship Kentucky team as the only teams to achieve the feat.

UK is 22-3 (.880) in NCAA Tournament games under the direction of John Calipari, who is 47-14 (.770) as a head coach in NCAA Tournament games, the highest winning percentage among active coaches.

The Cats have held their opponents to 55 points or less in 22 of their 38 games, the most in school history during the shot-clock era (1985-86).

Kentucky’s top nine available players are averaging between 11.1 and 25.7 minutes per game, its top seven scorers are averaging between 6.5 and 11.0 points per game and eight different players have led UK in scoring, including four different players leading the team in scoring on eight different occasions.

Despite having the most collective experience in the John Calipari era, UK’s average experience is still only 0.73 years. That ranks 346th out of 351 teams in the country, according to KenPom.com. The Wildcats are the youngest team in the NCAA tournament field.

Prediction

Going through their last practice at the Kohl Center Wednesday, senior Frank Kaminsky said he almost tried to make it nostalgic.

“I should have (cried),” said Kaminsky.

Senior Josh Gasser took a different approach. By taking care of business, the Badgers have controlled their schedule.

“It’s good to know when your last practice is going to be,” said Gasser. “That means you made it pretty far. We hope we know when our final game is going to be by taking care of business Saturday.”

Entering their sixth month of competitive basketball, Wisconsin has been able to handle every adverse situation thrown its way. When Wisconsin gave up 80 points to Duke in a loss Dec.3, the Badgers recognized they had to tighten up defensively. They have for the most part, not allowing more than 78 points in a game since and held nine of their next 11 points to less than 60 points.

When Wisconsin loss at Rutgers and saw senior Traevon Jackson go down with a broken bone in his foot, Gasser admitted that the setback refocused the team, which won seven of their next eight games by double digits.

“You lose a game like that early in the Big Ten season, you’ve been playing well throughout the year and people are saying good things about you, and just like that you’re right in the mix of things,” said Gasser. “(When) you have a tough grind to get through, you really have to focus in on what you’ve got to do. Losses aren’t good ever, but I don’t think that was a bad one. It definitely got us focused.”

No matter the environment or the situation, Wisconsin hasn’t been rattled. It’s a combination of talent and experience from four seniors which has filtered down to the other players on the roster.

“Those four seniors come with a mindset every day that they’re not intimidated by anything,” said associate head coach Greg Gard. “They’re upset when they don’t win; they think they should win every game; and have had the same approach in practice. They’ve had a champions’ mentality. They just figure that the only way they’re going to get beat is if they don’t play well. They fear absolutely nothing. I think it’s always easier when you have older players leading the way so to speak. You have to have talent, but that alone doesn’t do it. I think we’ve had the right mix of experience and talent, and the right mindset that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”

The mindset Wisconsin needs to bring tonight is to be relentless in the paint. Wisconsin has won the rebounding category 26 times, is second in the Big Ten with a +5.7 rebounding margin and lead the country limiting their opponents to just 27.7 rebounds per game, but this test is no joke.

The nation’s tallest team has out-rebounded its opponents this season by 279 boards. As of games through March 28, UK was 11th in the country with a plus-7.3 rebounding margin. According to kenpom.com, the Cats grab 39.6 percent of their offensive rebound opportunities, sixth in the country. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein lead UK in rebounding with an average of 6.6 and 6.5 per game, respectively.

In four tournament games, Kentucky is shooting at a 45.8-percent rate, limiting opponents to a 32.8 percent, have hauled in 40.5 rebounds per game with three players logging 6.3 or more and charted 30 blocks and 25 steals.

That didn’t seem to bother Notre Dame too much last weekend, as the Irish attacked Kentucky rather than defended them and stayed relentless until the final minutes when they started settling for jump shots. When they didn’t fall and Towns found a rhythm (scoring 17 of his 25 after halftime), the Wildcats survived.

Wisconsin has a better interior frontcourt than Notre Dame and are better than the frontcourt that played Kentucky a year ago. If the Badgers’ two bigs – Hayes and Kaminsky – can find ways to convert high percentage shots and Dekker can start slashing and converting at the rim, UW will be able to open up Kentucky’s defense and get some opportunity from the perimeter. If UW knocks those down, they win the game.

This is more than a revenge game for Wisconsin. It’s a chance to advance to the program’s first national final in 64 years.

“Winning a national championship is a goal we want to do,” said Dekker. “Last year I said if we end the season with a loss, it’s a failure. In my mind, if we end the season with a loss it’ll be a failure again. I think there are a lot of other guys in the locker room that would say the same thing.”

This Wisconsin team is experienced, focused and playing some of their best basketball of the year. More importantly, they have all the tools to slay the dragon … they just have to stick to their game plan and execute the way they have over the last month. If they do that, UW moves on with a four point victory.

Worgull's Record: 36-2

Points off Prediction: 262 (6.9 per game)


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