Kentucky's perfect season ends with 71-64 loss to Wisconsin

Kentucky's perfect season ends with 71-64 loss to Wisconsin

April 5th, 2015 by Associated Press in Sports - College

Wisconsin bench celebrates as Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein walks off after their NCAA Final Four tournament Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Indianapolis. Wisconsin won 71-64.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

INDIANAPOLIS — For 38 games top-ranked Kentucky mastered the art of the tune-out, brushing aside the hype, noise and distractions created by its pursuit of an unbeaten championship season.

The Wildcats just couldn't succeed at blocking out Wisconsin and big man Frank Kaminsky, who won 71-64 Saturday night to turn the Wildcats' dream season into a devastatingly sour footnote.

Hoping to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to finish as unbeaten champion, Kentucky (38-1) instead lost the rematch of last year's semifinal against the Badgers and joined Indiana State (1979), UNLV (1991) and Wichita State (2014) — unbeaten teams that lost in the NCAA tournament.

The fortitude and good fortune that helped Kentucky overcome several stiff challenges this season were absent against the determined Badgers (36-3), who made shots and grabbed the rebounds that the Wildcats couldn't.

Though Wildcats fans applauded the team as they slowly walked off the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium, they didn't expect an ending like this. Kentucky had been dominant for most of the season and seemed to have strong a chance at becoming a once-in-a-lifetime team.

Instead, the Wildcats head home dejected with a loss that they didn't see coming, at least not after rallying from deficits of nine and eight points and leading by four late in the game.

Kentucky couldn't put away Wisconsin, which outscored the Wildcats 15-4 down the stretch and appeared to benefit from a missed shot-clock violation that ended up with a game-tying basket by Nigel Hayes.

Kentucky struggled on offense late, three times running the shot clock down and missing a late shot.

Not even 16 points by Karl-Anthony Towns or 25 combined points by Aaron and Andrew Harrison could save the Wildcats.

More disappointing than having the winning streak was falling short for the second straight season on winning the school's ninth national championship. That was the goal all along for players and coach John Calipari, who touted hoisting the title trophy above all the chatter of going 40-0.

Kentucky players believed that as long as they won games, history would take care of itself. The Wildcats certainly did their part toward that end with dominant performances, saving some of their best efforts for marquee opponents.

But Kentucky reached the point of no return once it got into the NCAA tournament, where the end of its school-record streak would also end the season. Other than last weekend's 68-66 escape of Notre Dame in the Midwest Region final, the Wildcats rarely were challenged by the likes of Hampton, Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Along came the Badgers, who had the center to go toe-to-toe with Kentucky's big men in Kaminsky, the national player of the year. Wisconsin's strong outside game was more than capable of dictating matters, and after a back-and-forth start featuring four ties, it began to warm up from outside.

A 14-3 run provided a 23-14 lead and put the Wildcats on the verge of their biggest deficit all season since Columbia scored the game's first 11 points on them last fall.

Kentucky fought back and tied it by halftime. Wisconsin led for much of the second, but Kentucky took a 60-56 lead with 6 1/2 minutes remaining. The Wildcats went cold and didn't score again until there was less than a minute remaining.