Wisconsin Ends Big Ten’s Dream of Prominence with 74-73 Loss to Kentucky
AT & T Stadium
All year we have heard about how good the Big Ten is. The noise got louder when three teams made it to the Elite Eight and the dream remained alive when Wisconsin advanced. Despite a valiant effort last night the broken dreams of the Big Ten lay on the floor like Humpty Dumpty was the Badgers incredible team effort couldn’t match the talent and athleticism of the Kentucky Wildcats.
No Big Ten team has won a national title since Michigan State and the braggadocios Big Ten mantra is getting old. Titles prove dominance and the Big Ten is anemic of them in basketball.
Wisconsin had a chance to advance to the championship finals on the last shot, but Traevon Jackson couldn’t replicate nearly the same shot he hit to beat the Michigan State Spartans and the Wildcats celebrated.
Badger head coach Bo Ryan said, “When it comes down to a one possession game, the last possession’s always seemed so magnified. But there was 60, 70, 80 possessions in there and a lot of those ended up being the possessions that were more crucial. We just came up one short.
So we have been in the other end of those and we know what it’s like. It’s hard. It means we’re done playing for the year.”
Jackson had 12 points, but disappointingly reverted to sore lose more than being gracious in defeat. He said about the shot, “I think I got hit on my arm, but I thought once it was out of my hands I thought it had a chance to go in. But at that point when I seen it didn’t go in, it just was a shock more than sadness at that point, so… You make some, you miss some.”
Big games are won by people stepping up. The Wildcats started the first set of freshman since Michigan hustled out the Fraud Five and they stepped up. For the third game in a row Aaron Harrison carried his Cats on a last possession shot that he hit.
Badger star Sam Dekker dropped in 15 points on the evening and said of Harrison’s feat that, “Aaron has been doing that all tournament. He’s got that clutch gene. And props to him for hitting that shot. You got to tip your cap when credit is due. He came through big for his team and put them ahead. It wasn’t just the shot that beat us, it was a lot of other things during the course of the game that we didn’t do as well. They came out on the winning side of the column, and props to them for a hard fought game and good luck to them in the National Championship.”
Harrison only had eight points on the night and you have to credit Bo Ryan’s defensive scheme. Harrison was quick to praise Sam Gasser of the Badgers who shut him down for most of the evening. “I think they’re a great team so they just played great team defense. They watched a lot of film, just like we did and they were just prepared.”
Harrison was pressed by the assembled media to talk about himself and the feeling of yet again hitting a big game winning shot. He would have none of it. Despite single handedly taking Kentucky to the national title game, he was all about team. He was a true dictionary definition of the humble athlete. “I’m just happy for my teammates. I was happy because they were so excited and I know they were excited for me and I’m just happy that we won.”
UK big man Julius Randle is from Dallas. He had 16 points and five rebounds. The Dallas native was asked about getting to play in a Final Four at home. He isn’t happy…yet. “I’m definitely not satisfied. We have one more game to go. We have been through a lot this year and we deserve to reward ourselves and go out there and play hard and give it all we got. So definitely not satisfied.”
He continued, “Playing in my hometown, that really doesn’t mean anything. I mean, the atmosphere was crazy. Coach told us to go out there and just soak it in at first, and then just worry about what’s going on on the court. So it was crazy and it was fun.”
Calipari took a veiled shot at college basketball when asked if he would have liked to have played Florida in the title game. They lost earlier in the evening to UCONN and Cal said, “I would have liked them and us to have been in the finals for the SEC, like the league that had a down year.” OUCH. That SEC stinger hurts as a shot at the Big Ten.
Cal did want to praise his star Aaron Harrison for making the big shot again. He gave a great explanation about how players do that consistently on a big stage. “Guys that make game winners are not afraid to miss them, and he’s not afraid to miss. If he misses, give me another one. I’ll make another one. The best players I’ve had that played that way and can make those kind of plays, they have amnesia from play to play.”
So Monday night in Big D the national championship will be decided between a #8 and a #7 seed. Never in the history of the tournament have two such poorly seeded teams been here. UCONN on paper is a team that shouldn’t win. The problem is that they keep winning. UK has more talent and athleticism than almost any two teams.
Youthful mistakes are covered by amazing talent for the Cats. Who wins? At this point who knows? It is fitting that nearly 80 thousand people will jam Jerry’s House for an eventful conclusion to what has been perhaps the wackiest tournament in history.
Terrell Owens was famous for telling people in Dallas to get their popcorn ready. He’s right. Not for his long forgotten career, but for Monday night.