INDIANAPOLIS — Next in the way of Kentucky’s perfect season: Frank the Tank and his fun-loving band of Wisconsin teammates.
Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers were so loose they were giggling during their interviews Friday, answering questions about what they eat (Kaminsky likes omelets with syrup on top), how they slept (Sam Dekker got eight solid hours) and what their word of the day is for the poor NCAA stenographers they discovered earlier at the tournament (Nigel Hayes went with “prestidigitation”).
The team they face today, 38-0 Kentucky, is also trying to keep things pressure-free, and their coach, John Calipari, tried working some magic of his own with the numbers.
“Everybody is 0-0,” Calipari said. “Whether you’re Duke, Michigan State, Wisconsin or us, everybody’s record is the same. We’re all feeling the same thing. We all want to win a national title.”
If the Wildcats do, they’ll be the first program since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to finish a season as undefeated champions — an accomplishment that hovers over everything this week at what is shaping up as a monumental Final Four because of the history involved.
“If we do complete that goal, I couldn’t even put it into words,” said Andrew Harrison, whose two free throws were the difference in the 68-66 win over
Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional final.
But undefeated doesn’t necessarily mean perfect, and Wisconsin is hardly in awe.
This is a rematch of last year’s semifinal. In that game, the Badgers (35-3) were leading Kentucky by two when Harrison’s twin brother, Aaron, spotted up from behind the upper-left part of the arc with 5.7 seconds left and made his second straight game-winning 3-pointer.
“He has that clutch gene,” Dekker said after that one.
One notable stat from that 74-73 thriller: Kaminsky finished with only eight points and five rebounds.
The 7-foot center, who averages 18 points and almost nine rebounds this season and will likely go in the first round of the NBA Draft, said he would have returned for his senior season either way. Still, the loss — and the way it went down — left a mark.
“It’s obviously motivating because you want to come back to this stage,” Kaminsky said. “This is what seasons are remembered for. You remember the national champion at the end of the season.”
Win or lose, these Kentucky players will be remembered — and watched some more. Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns — likely to become one of Calipari’s much-discussed “one-and-dones” — is a probable lottery pick, as is junior Willie Cauley-Stein. The Harrison brothers and four or five more are also
expected to wind up in the NBA, too.
Wisconsin has a few future pros — Kaminsky, Dekker and Hayes. But it’s no big secret that the Badgers won’t win on raw talent.
“Do you think I have to tell my players that this is a big game or that Kentucky’s pretty good?” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “They are. I think our guys are astute enough to figure that part out.”
The big man is back — at least at this Final Four. This game will feature three of the best: Kaminsky for Wisconsin and 6-11 Towns and 7-0 Cauley-Stein for Kentucky. The Wildcats also have Trey Lyles at 6-10 and Marcus Lee at 6-9. To practice for Kentucky’s height, Ryan tinkered with the idea of using tennis rackets to swat down shots at practice. “But with these guys, they might have started whacking each other with them,” he said. “We can’t simulate what they have.”
When asked what stats he pays most attention to, Ryan focused in on one: Points per possession. It’s pretty clear why. The Badgers lead the nation in that stat at 1.22. Kentucky’s not far behind, ranked ninth at 1.156.
Part of Calipari’s coaching brilliance this season has been figuring out how to spread the minutes and the touches, while keeping everyone happy. Nobody on Kentucky averages more than 26 minutes a game, and Andrew Harrison leads the team in scoring with a modest 11 points a game. The Badgers, whose roster isn’t as deep, have three players who score more — Kaminsky (18.7), Dekker (13.9) and Hayes (12.4).
Ends and odds
The Wildcats are five-point favorites, matching the lowest number they have been favored by all season. Also, for those thinking this Kentucky team will go down as the best in college basketball history if it runs the table, think again. The 2014-15 Wildcats would be a 3½-point underdog against the 2011-12 title team, according to R.J. Bell, a betting analyst who runs the Pregame.com website.
WHAT: National semifinals
WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
TV/RADIO: TBS, TNT, TruTV; WKNR 850-AM
WHO: Duke vs. Michigan State
WHO: Kentucky vs. Wisconsin