INDIANAPOLIS - Talk about a bad weekend for Kentucky. Two days after the 38-0 Wildcats were knocked out of the tournament by Wisconsin, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski stepped over iconic Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp into sole possession of second place behind UCLA's John Wooden on the list of all-time coaching greats.
Krzyzewski even borrowed a page from current Kentucky coach John Calipari by relying on four freshmen for a 68-63 victory over Wisconsin Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium to earn his fifth NCAA title.
"They showed such grit tonight. Our bench was spectacular," Kryzyzewski said of his team, which has eight players in the rotation. "Like we said about two months ago, eight is enough. Eight is enough."
Tyus Jones topped the Blue Devils (35-4) with 23 points, and they got 16 from Grayson Allen off the bench and 10 each from Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor. Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin (36-4) with 21 points and 12 rebounds, Nigel Hayes had 13 points and Sam Dekker had 12 but was 0-for-6 from three-point range.
As the game moved into crunch time, Okafor, the would-be candidate for No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, largely was a non-factor. Instead, it was Allen coming off the bench to score 10 points in a 17-6 run for Duke's first lead of the second half at 56-54 with 5:32 left. Then, at 4:08, it was Jones, who had 22 points in the Blue Devils' win at Wisconsin in December, draining a three for a 59-58 advantage.
"We were kind of dead in the water, we were nine points down and Grayson just put us on his back and once he got us in striking distance, we just said, 'Tyus, run high-ball screen and be you,' " Krzyzewski said. "That's great coaching, I guess."
Okafor finally got into the act, scoring his first second-half points on a layup with 3:14 to go. He missed a foul shot but came up big on defense, blocking one Kaminsky shot and forcing another bad one by the national player of the year as the shot clock expired. When Okafor added another layup and Jones hit a three with 1:24 left, Duke suddenly had a 66-58 lead.
It was a punch in the mouth, but Wisconsin responded with a three by Kaminsky, a defensive stop and a dunk by Hayes to cut the deficit to 66-63 with 50.1 seconds left. But that was as close as the Badgers got.
The oddsmakers called the battle pick-'em because there was so little to choose from between the two teams. Both coaches had won four national titles. OK, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan won his at the D-III level, but he was 4-0 in national title games compared to the 4-4 record Duke's Krzyzewski brought into the game.
Reality lived up to anticipation of a tight one as the first six scores produced lead changes. Duke managed a 6-1 burst, including four points from senior Quinn Cook to take its biggest lead of the first half at 23-17.
But "Frank the Tank," who effectively contained Duke's Okafor to six first-half points, took charge, sparking a 7-0 Wisconsin run for a 24-23 lead. Kaminsky picked Okafor's pocket under the basket and threw an outlet pass leading to a fast-break layup, followed up with a defensive rebound and then spun past Okafor to the basket for a layup and a foul shot for the lead.
That was the first of seven straight lead changes that pushed the first-half total to 13 before Duke's Amile Jefferson converted a layup to knot the score at 31 at halftime. Wisconsin broke out to a 38-33 lead early in the second half and then put together a 6-0 surge ending with a Kaminsky layup for the Badgers' biggest lead at 48-39.