Wildcats road to NCAA victory comes to abrupt end
Kentucky has adapted to the “one and done” reality of college basketball better than anyone, but this is not what they had in mind. After 38 wins and a tantalizing flirtation with perfection and immortality, they are officially done in by one loss. One and done. In a taut, tense, and riveting game, the Wildcats fell to the Wisconsin Badgers, 71-64, in the national semifinals on Saturday. In the blink of a Sam Dekker step-back three pointer, the Kentucky blue brick road came to an abrupt end. This one and done thing can be cruel.
The story lines were almost too juicy to be true on Saturday, as the Badgers were aiming to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Final Four. That 2014 game seemed to confirm that, in today’s college basketball landscape, young talent will always beat experience and systems. Being fundamentally sound is nice, but unless you’re rolling out five high school all-Americans, you might as well be playing for second or third place. While it is true that an underdog UCONN team defeated Kentucky in the championship game, the era of Wildcats’ domination had been established.
At the end of the day, the team that boasted the best player in college basketball, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, beat the team with the best pro prospects. For impartial observers, there is something surprisingly refreshing and redeeming in that result. Knowing that the Kentucky Way is not the only way makes us feel a little better about the sport.
Even in defeat, John Calipari and his team showed admirable qualities, which they had displayed all year. They were the Big Blue Machine, rather than the Big Bad Blue Machine, meaning they often inspired respect, rather than loathsomeness. It’s a subtle difference, but the players and coaching staff deserve immense credit for maintaining that high character all season. That is what many fans will remember about the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats — if anyone remembers them at all. Our memory banks don’t leave much room for number two. One and done.
While Wisconsin vs. Kentucky was the ultimate heavyweight matchup, the Wisconsin vs. Duke title tilt, ironically, gives us a more easily identifiable villain. The Blue Devils remain the most polarizing unit in college basketball, and their hateability quotient is a lot higher than Kentucky’s. With apologies to Duke’s Big Blue Nation, there’s no joy in rooting for the Blue Devils.
Wisconsin remains the darlings of the Final Four, and they will have to finish the job against the second most talented team in the country. Falling short on Monday night will make Saturday’s victory meaningless. Just ask Kentucky. One and Done.
Has your team made it to the end of the road? What do you think of Kentucky’s defeat? Share here, or find me on Twitter @endbadly