INDIANAPOLIS - Kentucky had history within its grasp, but the Wildcats' shot to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976 was ripped away by a veteran Wisconsin team Saturday night. The Badgers held the Wildcats to four points in the final 61/2 minutes and pulled away for a 71-64 win that left Kentucky with a sad number "1" next to its 38 victories.
"I never talked about breaking a streak or beating a team that was unbeaten," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "It was all about what these guys could do to get 40 more minutes . . . It was the end, the last five minutes. These guys gutted it out again."
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The Badgers (36-3), who lost to Kentucky by one point in a national semifinal last year, will face Duke (34-4) for the national championship Monday night.
Wisconsin ended the game with a 15-4 run, including six points from Sam Dekker, who finished with 16.
Frank Kaminsky, who won the AP player of the year award the previous day, led Wisconsin with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Badgers got 12 points each from Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.
Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns topped Kentucky with 16 points and nine rebounds. Andrew Harrison had 13 points and twin brother Aaron added 12.
Kentucky coach John Calipari agreed with Ryan that his team lost the end game. "We all wanted to win those last two," Calipari said of the 40-0 goal. "These kids wanted to win it in the worst way . . . But we normally execute down the stretch, and we didn't. They did. They made plays and we didn't."
Midway through the second half, Kentucky put together a 16-4 run, including six points from Towns, to turn an eight-point deficit into a 60-56 lead with 6:36 to play. But the Badgers got five straight defensive stops. They ended their own six-minute scoring drought when Dekker drove for a layup at 4:26 and Hayes scored on a baseline drive as the shot clock expired to tie the score at 60 with 2:40 left.
Describing Wisconsin's defense down the stretch, Dekker said, "We clogged the driving lanes a little better and made it tough to get good looks inside." He added that three shot-clock violations by the Wildcats boosted the Badgers' confidence.
When Dekker drained a three-pointer and added a foul shot on the next possession, Wisconsin had a 64-60 lead with 1:06 left.
Aaron Harrison converted a three-point play with 56.2 seconds left, and it seemed Kentucky might escape. But the Badgers shot 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 24 seconds.
It was over when Aaron Harrison, who hit the winning three-pointer against Wisconsin a year ago, threw up an air ball with six seconds left.
After taking the 60-56 lead on Towns' short jumper, Kentucky missed eight of its last nine shots -- and not one was taken by Towns, who got one touch that led to a foul shot that cut Wisconsin's lead to 66-64 with 16.1 seconds left.
"We had an absolute beautiful game plan," Towns said of the lack of touches at the end. "We just got beat. Without coach Calipari, we don't get to 38 at all. There's no way it's a coaching decision."
Calipari said his players tried to drive it inside, where Towns was waiting, but that they got "tentative" when the Badgers surrounded the big man.
Asked if reaching for history became too much of a burden at the end, Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein said, "I don't think it weighed in on us, the 40-0 hype. It's just time and circumstances. The last five minutes is the game. If you don't make plays in the last five minutes, you will lose."
Calipari said his team deserves to be celebrated for its record 38-0 start to the season, not blamed for the loss that ended it. "What impacted the game most was Wisconsin and how they played," said Calipari, pointing to the Badgers' 12-rebound advantage. "It was the rebounding and the toughness and the plays around the goal.
"For me, I wasn't thinking 40-0. I was just trying to win the game and get on to another game. I would hope my team was that way, but they're 18- and 19-year-olds. Maybe they were. If they were, OK, I'll deal with that."