Perfection was on the line for Kentucky going into Saturday’s NCAA semifinal game. But at the end of the day, it was the Wisconsin Badgers who were perfect, ending the Wildcats bid for an unbeaten season with a 71-64 victory. They earned the right to face Duke tonight in the NCAA finals.
It’ll be the first time Wisconsin (36-3) has been in the finals since 1941, and Badgers sophomore Bronson Koenig (Ho-Chunk) will be the first Native American to play in the NCAA championship game since 1958. Koenig finished with 12 points against Kentucky.
Koenig was 3 of 4 from the free throw line in the final 12 seconds, helping the Badgers pull away. “It’s tough with everything on the line like that, but it’s about having confidence in myself to knock those free throws down,” Koenig told ICTMN. Koenig extended Wisconsin’s lead to 68-64 with a pair of free throws with 12.2 seconds remaining in a game that had 11 ties and seven lead changes. He was back at the line with 5.5 remaining and got one to go to make it 69-64.
The La Crosse, Wis. native tied the game at the intermission with a jump shot as time ran out to set the stage for a historic run to the finals for the Big Ten-champions, who have won 11 straight since losing to Maryland on Feb. 24.
The Badgers became the only team to beat Kentucky (38-1) this season despite star 7-footer Frank Kaminsky going nearly 17 minutes without scoring in the second half. Kaminsky still finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds and Wisconsin ended the game on a 15-4 run over the last 4 1/2 minutes.
Kentucky was trying to become the first undefeated NCAA basketball champion since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976.
Koenig told ICTMN earlier in the tournament his experience in his first two seasons seemed “almost surreal at times.” It just got a whole lot more surreal. His historic run from role player to role model has taken a historic leap as he is the first Native in 57 years to play for a NCAA championship.