INDIANAPOLIS - Traevon Jackson didn’t cry after his potential game-winning jumper bounced off the backboard and rim a year ago, setting off a Kentucky dog pile behind him as the Wildcats’ season continued as his ended. He was too in shock.
This year, after all he’s been through in the last three months, there was no stopping the emotions.
“We was on the bench and I just started crying,” said Jackson, who turned to all smiles when reporters started asking him about Wisconsin’s 71-64 victory over Kentucky Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I’ve never had that before … We came together collectively and did some things. I was just thankful.”
After playing a combined 16 minutes last weekend in Los Angeles, slowly dipping his feet back into the deep end of the pool after missing more than two months of the season, Jackson brought back a more vintage performance against the Wildcats.
And while he dribbled himself in and out of trouble during his 12 minutes on the court (the most he’s played since Jan.11), Jackson finished with six points, went 4-for-4 from the free throw line, had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and was in attack mode during the second half.
“I’m frustrated with myself because I know I could have (done) that in the first half and I will do that next game,” said Jackson, referring to UW’s date with No.1 seed Duke Monday night. “This is it. No more holding back. I’m just glad to help the team.”
For the first prolonged time this season, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan went with an experienced-heavy lineup with all four seniors and either Nigel Hayes or Sam Dekker representing the fifth spot. In all, UW played 8 minutes, 37 seconds with both Duje Dukan and Jackson.
“We’re confident in whoever is on the floor, whoever coach decides to put out there,” said Dukan, who finished with two points, one assist and no turnovers in 11 minutes. “We’ve worked in the offseason, worked hard with each other, we know each other like the back of our hand. We know what we’re capable of achieving as a team, and when we put our abilities together, good things happen.”
Wisconsin’s seniors scored a combined 31 points, 20 of which came from player of the year Frank Kaminsky.
Dekker gives shout out to Badger Nation
As Wisconsin continued to lead in the second half, Sam Dekker was exhorting the Wisconsin crowd to get behind the Badgers even more.
"Yeah, well, the Badger Nation, 'Grateful Red,' whatever you want to call them, they ride or die, they're always with us through highs and lows,'' Dekker said. "You know we're going to have that backing no matter where we go. I think that's pretty cool. I think that's something special about Wisconsin sports as a whole. Our fan base is so loyal.
"What more can you ask for as an athlete, wanting to come to a school, knowing you're going to be playing in front of 17,000-plus every night. On the road you're going to hear roars whenever you score. Not many schools can say that. We were outnumbered a little bit tonight but I heard them more than I did Blue Nation.''
Kaminsky's buddy nailed Saturday's outcome
In the postgame press conference, Kaminsky felt he needed to give some love to a friend of his who he had talked to earlier in the day. That friend predicted everything that was about to happen in Saturday's game.
"I was playing FIFA in the room, you know, we had so much time today,'' Kaminsky said. "One of my buddies from back home came and we were talking, Alex Flood. He said if I had 20, Sam had 16 or 18, Nigel would have 12 and either Bronson or Josh would add 10 or 12, we would win the game by seven points.
"That's exactly what happened. It's just too weird not to bring up, how the game ended, how the numbers worked out. It was perfect.''
Free Throws: Wisconsin’s 36 wins is one shy of Illinois’s Big Ten record of 37 set in 2004-05 … Wisconsin became the first team to win a semifinal rematch in back-to-back years. Previously, California beat Cincinnati in consecutive years in 1959-80, and UCLA did the same to Houston in 1967-68 … Kentucky entered the game with a plus-7.3 rebound margin, but Wisconsin outrebounded the Wildcats by 12, tying for the largest rebounding margin against UK this season.
Scout.com Terry Hutchens contributed to this report