Wisconsin’s offense was consistently mentioned as one of the teams that could possibly find a way to beat a Kentucky defense that had shown to be one of the best in the country, as the Wildcats entered the game giving up 53.9 points a contest.
The Badgers lived up to the hype, becoming the fourth team this year to score at least 70 points against Kentucky and the first since February 21. Wisconsin was able to score its 71 points on 23-for-48 (47.9 percent) from the field.
As they have done throughout the season, Wisconsin received balance scoring with four players reaching double figures. Frank Kaminsky led the way with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field. Sam Dekker was second with 16 points, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig each had 12 points on a combined 7-for-21 shooting from the field.
With Kentucky’s length on defense, the Badgers had to find a way of avoiding scoring droughts. Although Wisconsin did do well, they had one drought that lasted 7 minutes and 9 seconds in the second half without a field goal. The only offense UW got over that time frame was two free throws from Traevon Jackson (six points) before Dekker was able to snap the drought at 4:26.
Despite that rough stretch and having its eight-point lead vanish, the Badgers were able to keep their poise. Even with the scoring spell, UW shot 50 percent (10-for-20) from the field in the second half, the seventh time over the last eight games it has shot above 50 percent from the field in the second half.
Kentucky’s length wasn’t a major factor in the game but the Wildcats forced Wisconsin into 10 team turnovers, its highest total since the Nicholls in December. Kaminsky and Josh Gasser (three points) each had three turnovers for Wisconsin. The three turnovers to zero assists by Gasser is surprising, as it was a season high for him and it breaks a streak of three game streak of no turnovers. Kentucky was able to convert Wisconsin’s miscues into 13 points.
Wisconsin’s defense showed it could hang with the size of Kentucky for the entirety of the game, as they held the Wildcats to their season average of 34 points in the paint. Only Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky’s starting frontcourt managed to score in double figures with 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting. UK’s two other frontcourt players, Trey Lyles and Willie Cauley-Stein, finished the game with nine and two points, respectively.
Dekker was on Cauley-Stein for a majority of the game and did a tremendous job considering he was at a height disadvantage and has struggled to stop dribble penetration this year. Dekker and the rest of Wisconsin’s defense deserve plenty of credit for holding him check the entire night (1-for-4 from the field).
Outside of keeping containment of Kentucky’s frontcourt, Wisconsin was able to put the clamps down defensively in the second half, as Kentucky saw its field goal percentage go from 60 percent (15-for-25) in the first half all the way to 37.9 percent (11-for-29) in the second half. Wisconsin was able to consistently get a hand in player’s faces and force the Wildcats into tough contested shots. Overall Kentucky finished the game 26-for-54 (48.1 percent) from the field.
Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison were the two other players for Kentucky to reach double figures in scoring, as they finished the game with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Between Gasser and Koenig, they were able to hold the Harrison twins to a combined seven points in the second half, as Aaron Harrison was the only one of the two to make a field goal in the second half.
It was critical for Wisconsin to prevent Kentucky from consistently getting second chance opportunities. They finished the game with six, five of which came in the second half and all coming courtesy of Towns. In one sequence Towns was able to grab two offensive rebounds before he converted in the paint, as that was two of Kentucky’s six points off of second-chance opportunities. Wisconsin won the rebounding battle 34-22 and dominated the glass 12-6.
Wisconsin was able to force Kentucky into six turnovers in the game, which led to six UW points. UW also forced Kentucky into three straight shot clock violations in the second half that helped UW’s offense seize momentum.
With the game tied at 36 going into halftime, Wisconsin was going to have to find a way to take control of the game if they wanted to ruin Kentucky’s perfect season. Wisconsin certainly did that by staying patient throughout the half on both ends of the floor and forced Kentucky to struggle, something the Wildcats rarely did this year.
The struggles for Kentucky started to intensify at the 6:36 mark in the second half. Up four points, the Badgers’ defense held them without a field goal until 56 seconds remained in the game. Aaron Harrison was able to break the drought with a three-point play, but the Wildcats managed only one more point the rest of the way. UW closed the game on a 15-4 run over that stretch with the Wildcats going 1-for-8 from the field.
Not only did Dekker give UW the lead with a 3-pointer with 1:42 to go, he was able to draw a charge on the other end with 1:25 to go. Dekker was able to time the drive, get his feet set and absorb contact. Dekker was able to split his free throws on the next possession, which started icing the game for Wisconsin.
The Badgers finished the game 8-for-10 from the free throw line in the last 66 seconds of the game and went 18-for-22 (81.8 percent) from the charity stripe. Kaminsky led the way with six free throw attempts, making five of his shots.
It was clear that Wisconsin wanted to get the basketball in the post early to Kaminsky to establish an offensive rhythm. Kaminsky received the first two touches to begin the second half and was able to finish both plays off by using one of his post moves to lay the basketball in. With the size of Kentucky, Wisconsin didn’t have as much success in the paint (20 points) but was able to make it count.
Wisconsin did struggle against Towns to begin the second half, as he was able to score four of Kentucky’s first eight points and find the soft spot in Wisconsin’s defense. But Towns finished the second half with 11 points, as Wisconsin’s frontcourt started to do a better job of limiting his post touches.
Game MVP: Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. Dekker and Kaminsky were both sensational for Wisconsin on both sides of the floor. Kaminsky was able to get the second half scoring started by registering seven of UW’s first 10 points. Wisconsin consistently found a way to get the basketball down low to him and he was able to make some difficult shot attempts at times over a defender. Kaminsky was also a big reason why Wisconsin won the rebounding battle, as his game-high 11 rebounds gave him his 13th double-double of the season. Not to mention that 10 of his 11 rebounds came on the defensive end, as he consistently made sure Kentucky wasn’t going to beat Wisconsin with multiple shot attempts on one possession.
Kaminsky may have started the scoring to begin the second half, but Dekker was able to help provide the spark to give UW the lead for good after going down four late in the second half. Dekker scored six of Wisconsin’s last 15 points. Dekker never allowed the length of Cauley-Stein to bother him, as he stayed patient throughout the game and finished 6-for-9 from the field and 2-of-3 from distance.<.p>
As good as Dekker was on offense he was even better on defense late in the game. As stated above, drawing the charge on Lyles helped sustain the momentum on Wisconsin’s side and helping contain Cauley-Stein to two points the entire game and one second-half rebound was huge.