63° Good Morning
63° Good Morning
SportsCollegeCollege Basketball

Wisconsin puts Kentucky win in rearview mirror, focuses on Duke for national title

Frank Kaminsky of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after

Frank Kaminsky of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after a play in the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats during the NCAA Final Four Semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images / Streeter Lecka

INDIANAPOLIS - The conquering heroes from Wisconsin returned late Saturday night to their hotel, where they were greeted by a sea of red-clad fans celebrating the historic upset of 38-0 Kentucky. A year after the Badgers' one-point loss to the Wildcats in the national semifinals, it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments you want to savor forever.

But as great as it felt, Frank Kaminsky just wanted to get some sleep.

"They were up until 1:30 in the morning screaming as loud as they could in the lobby," the national player of the year said. "You could hear it all the way on the eighth floor. I just wish they would have went to bed earlier. But it's awesome to have that kind of support."

Kaminsky and the Badgers (36-3) understand that the job isn't finished just because they beat Kentucky. Waiting for them Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium with the national title on the line is Duke (34-4), a team that had the audacity and the talent to visit Wisconsin on Dec. 3 and walk away with an 80-70 win.

"Even right after [Saturday night's] game, we knew we had to shift our focus to Duke," Kaminsky said. "We know what we did is going to be talked about for a while. It was a great win. But winning the national title is the ultimate goal."

No one understands better than Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski the difficulty of turning the page after such a momentous win. The last time an undefeated team reached the Final Four was 1991, when UNLV arrived 34-0 for a rematch of its 30-point win over Duke in the previous year's national championship game. The Blue Devils won the game no one thought they could.

"It wasn't just the emotion in the locker room," Krzyzewski said. "We handled that well. It was the emotion in the hotel, where our fans were literally delirious. They didn't think we would beat Vegas. We had to make sure we didn't go into their environment . . . because we had to beat a really good Kansas team on Monday night."

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is mindful of all the precedents. Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that shockingly upset the Soviet Union.

"I was reminded by I can't tell you how many people, 'Hey, Bo, in 1980 after we beat Russia, we had to beat Finland,' '' Ryan said. "Most people think Russia was the gold-medal game. It was Finland. I've been reminded on a few text messages that Finland is Duke."

Krzyzewski said he thought when the season began that Wisconsin would be the best team in the country. "It's just that Kentucky's undefeated performance overshadowed how good Wisconsin has been," he said, "until last night, when there were no shadows anymore."

Well, that loss to Duke clouds the Badgers' memories. Forward Sam Dekker was slowed by an ankle injury and limited to five points, but still, Duke senior guard Quinn Cook recalls that win as the launching pad for a young team with freshman starters Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, who had a 22-point game as Duke shot 65.2 percent from the field.

"It did a lot for our confidence, especially the young guys," Cook said. "The way they played against a veteran team coming off the Final Four was shocking to me."

It told Krzyzewski he might have something special. "The thing I saw was that they weren't nervous," he said of his freshmen. "You can't teach that. I came away from that game knowing this would be a team that wouldn't be afraid of the bright lights and big stage."

It doesn't get any brighter or bigger than Monday night.

New York Sports