INDIANAPOLIS - Talk about a bad weekend for Kentucky. Two days after the 38-0 Wildcats were knocked out of the tournament by Wisconsin, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski stepped over iconic Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp into sole possession of second place behind UCLA's John Wooden on the list of all-time coaching greats.
Kryzyzewski even borrowed a page from current Kentucky coach John Calipari by relying on four freshmen for a 68-63 victory over Wisconsin Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium that gave him his fifth NCAA title. Imagine a Duke team getting 60 points from its freshman class, including all 37 second-half points.
"I haven't loved a team more than I've loved this one," Krzyzewski said. "We had eight [scholarship] guys, and to win a title with four freshmen is incredible. They've been a joy."
Tyus Jones topped the Blue Devils (35-4) with 23 points, and they got 16 from Grayson Allen off the bench, 11 points and nine rebounds from Justise Winslow and 10 points from Jahlil Okafor, the prospective No. 1 NBA draft choice who was limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble.
National player of the year Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin (36-4) with 21 points and 12 rebounds and Nigel Hayes scored 13 points. Sam Dekker had 12 but shot 0-for-6 from three-point range.
As the game moved into crunch time with Wisconsin holding a nine-point lead, Okafor was a non-factor. Instead, it was Allen coming off the bench to score 10 points in a 17-6 run for Duke's first lead of the second half at 56-54 with 5:32 left.
"When we got nine points down, we were in foul trouble and a little disjointed," Krzyzewski said. "Grayson put us on his back. We went to him exclusively because of his ability to drive and penetrate, and he finished."
Then, at 4:08, it was Tyus Jones, who had 22 points in the Blue Devils' win at Wisconsin in December, draining a three for a 59-58 lead. Okafor finally got into the act, scoring his first second-half points on a layup with 3:14 to go. He missed a foul shot but came up big on defense, blocking one shot by Kaminsky and forcing another bad one as the shot clock expired.
When Okafor added another layup and Jones hit a three at 1:24, Duke suddenly had a 66-58 lead, putting the veteran Badgers on the ropes. It was a punch in the mouth, but Wisconsin responded with a three by Kaminsky, a defensive stop and a dunk by Hayes to cut the deficit to 66-63 with 50.1 seconds left. But the Badgers got no closer.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan made it clear he believed the officiating crew took the game away from the veteran Badgers. In the second half, Duke was 16-for-20 from the foul line compared to 3-for-3 for Wisconsin. "This was a team that committed the least number of fouls during the year, a team that got to the free-throw line," he said. "These guys played 30-some games that way. It's unfortunate this one had to be played out [another] way."
There were 13 lead changes in a first half that ended tied at 31. The Badgers put together a 6-0 surge midway in the second half, ending with a layup by Kaminsky for their biggest lead at 48-39.
By then, Winslow and Okafor were on the bench with three fouls each. That's when Allen, the unsung fourth freshman, stepped up, sinking a three-pointer, forcing a turnover leading to his own three-point play and hitting two foul shots to trim the deficit to 51-47 with 11:43 left.
"It doesn't feel real right now," said Allen, the only one of Duke's freshmen who definitely won't be in the NBA Draft. "This group has talked about this moment since the beginning of the year, but saying it and getting it done are two completely different things. To do it with this group of guys is amazing."