Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will have a chance at a fifth national title and Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin pulled one of the great upsets in NCAA semifinals history ending Kentucky’s phenomenal run one game short of the national title game.
In the second of Saturday’s semifinals, Kaminsky proved why he is the nation’s best player – he was awarded the Naismith Player of the Year trophy over championship weekend. The Badgers 7-footer shot 7-of-11 from the floor and scored 20 points to lead head coach Bo Ryan and company to the national championship game with a 71-64 win over Kentucky. Kaminsky also had 11 rebounds, two blocked shots, and two assists.
Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, the 6-9 junior who has been on a tear during the NCAA tournament, added 16 points for the Badgers who appeared to be in for a long day against the previously unbeaten Wildcats.
After the game’s opening tip, one of Kentucky’s 7-footers, Willie Cauley-Stein, electrified the crowd with a huge rim-rattling dunk to give the Wildcats an early 5-0 lead. The Badgers, however, were unfazed.
The game then went into frenzy mode as both teams battled back and forth. Wisconsin took an eight-point lead, the biggest of the game, with just under 15 minutes to play in the game. Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who will be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and his Wildcats proved why they were the nation’s best team throughout the regular season by tying the game and going on an 8-0 run to take a four-point lead.
It would be Dekker who would open things up near the end of the game. The Badgers forward hit a three-pointer at the 1:44 mark and then Kaminsky and guard Bronson Koenig each hit a pair of free throws to ice the game.
Duke Downs Michigan State
In Saturday’s first game, the Blue Devils found the going tough in the beginning but led by their fabulous freshman – Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow – went on to defeat coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans, 81-61.
Winslow finished with 19 points and Okafor, a Naismith Player of the Year nominee, added 18 and six rebounds. Senior guard Quinn Cook scored 17 points as Duke reached the national championship game for the third time in Indianapolis. The city has been good to the Blue Devils.
In 1991 behind Christian Laettner, Duke won its first title under Krzyzewski in Indy. The Blue Devils returned to the city in 2010 and won their fourth and most recent title when they defeated Butler. Ironically, Michigan State was also part of that Final Four.
Izzo’s Spartans made five of their first seven shots and moved out to an eight-point lead just six minutes into the game. Duke then settled down and showed the kind of championship play that has helped them win 17 of their last 18 games. The only loss was to Notre Dame, an Elite Eight team, in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
It was an incredible run for the Spartans, the only non-No. 1 seed in the Final Four. A month before the tourney, MSU looked like it may have trouble even getting an at-large bid. But, Izzo’s squad proved resilient at the right time winning 12 of its last 15 games of the season (including the tournament).
Izzo is now 3-4 in national semifinal games. This will be the school’s 11th appearance in an NCAA final. Duke won titles in 1991, ’92, 2001, and 2010. With a win in the title game, Krzyzewski would increase his total to five, which would place him second behind former UCLA head coach John Wooden who won 11 titles.
Wisconsin will play in the championship game for the first time since 1941. Under head coach Bud Foster, the Badgers finished 20-3 and won that year’s national title. Kaminsky is he school’s first Naismith award winner. The senior averaged 18.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game during the regular season. He has averaged over 22 points per game during the tournament and will be one of the keys against a formidable Duke frontline.
Dekker, who has also averaged over 20 points a game in the tournament, could be the difference maker in the final. At 6-9, the Wisconsin native gives defenses match up problems with his ability to hit long range 3-pointers and put the ball on the floor and get to the basket.
Duke will rely on its best player, Okafor, in the final. The battle between the 6-11 Okafor and the 7-foot Kaminsky will go down as one of the best in recent NCAA finals history.
A win for Wisconsin would give Ryan his first NCAA Division I title as a head coach. Ryan, who was passed over for the College Basketball Hall of Fame this year, won four championships as the head coach at Wisconsin-Platteville, a Division III school, in the 1990s.