INDIANAPOLIS - Kentucky had history within its grasp, but the Wildcats had their shot to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976 ripped away by Wisconsin Saturday night. The Badgers held the Wildcats to four points in the final six minutes and pulled away to a 71-64 victory that left Kentucky with a sad number "1" next to its 38 victories.
The Badgers (36-3), who lost to the Wildcats in a national semifinal last year, will face Duke for the national championship Monday night. Wisconsin's 13-4 run at the end of the game made it possible, including six points from Sam Dekker, who finished with 16.
Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Badgers got 12 points each from Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.
Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns topped Kentucky with 16 points and nine rebounds. Andrew Harrison had 13 points and twin brother Aaron added 12.
An 8-0 run, including two baskets from Towns for a 60-56 lead with 6:30 left, positioned Kentucky for its finishing stretch drive. But Wisconsin finally started getting some stops, and Dekker's layup at 4:26 cut the deficit to two points.
The Badgers tied it at 60 with 2:40 left on a baseline drive by Hayes as the shot clock expired. Kentucky coaches signaled a clock violation to an officiating crew that ignored their plea.
When Dekker added a three-pointer and a foul shot on the next possession, Wisconsin suddenly had a 64-60 advantage after its answering 8-0 run. Aaron Harrison fought his way inside to convert a three-point play for Kentucky, but Kaminsky's two foul shots with 24.5 seconds left gave the Badgers a three-point cushion.
Towns was fouled with 16.1 seconds showing and made the first but missed the second. Kaminsky rebounded and passed to Koenig, who was fouled at the 12.2 mark. He made both to make it a two-possession game at 68-64, and Kentucky called time with 10 seconds left.
Last year, Aaron Harrison hit a game-winning three-pointer in that situation, but this time he threw up an air ball. Koenig went to the line again with 5.5 seconds left and, after missing the first attempt, hit the second to make it 69-64. Kaminsky added two free throws with four seconds left.
The buildup to the rematch of Kentucky's one-point win in last season's national semifinal generated a sense that the best game of the season was on the verge of unfolding. If any team had the combination of size, outside shooting and defense to challenge the undefeated Wildcats, it figured to be the Big Ten champs, and they certainly had the motivation.
Badgers forward Dekker said he watched the replay of last year's loss to Kentucky a few days after it happened, then again a few weeks later, then in bits and pieces for the next few months and, finally, one more showing on the eve of the season opener. "It got me pumped up," Dekker said.
The goal was to reach the title game, and the fact Kentucky was in the way was just a coincidence, but a fortunate one.
The Wildcats scored the first five points, but the Badgers worked their way back into it and took the biggest lead of the first half at 23-14 on Dekker's jumper with 9:16 left in the half.
Then it was Kentucky's turn to fight back with an extended 22-11 run. A dunk by Indianapolis native Trey Lyles had the crowd of more than 70,000 rocking and gave Kentucky a 36-34 lead in the final minute of the half. Koenig's buzzer-beating jumper tied it at 36 at halftime.
If there was one thing clear at that point, it was that Wisconsin had to do a better job of stopping Kentucky on the inside. The Wildcats shot 60 percent from the field and had an 18-10 advantage in points in the paint in the first half, not because of their big men, but because the Harrison twins were getting to the rim, showing their determination to lead their young team back to the title game they lost last year to Connecticut.
The teams continued trading baskets when the second half opened, but Wisconsin hit six of its first seven shots and got enough stops to push its lead to 52-44 on a three-pointer by Koenig.
The Wildcats caught a bad break when Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison picked up their third fouls within seconds of each other and sat down with 13:06 remaining.
But the deep Wildcats had the resources to withstand that setback and crept back as they turned their defense up a notch and increased the degree of difficulty of the Badgers' shots.