It happened again.
In a fiery Elite 8 rematch between the Arizona Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers, the ‘Cats fell, 85-78 in Los Angeles.
It’s a cruel cycle; one that has robbed the Wildcats of the Final Four berth they haven’t seen since 2001 twice in a row, to the same team.
The Wildcats’ heartbreak came via 79 percent second-half shooting from Wisconsin, a game-high 29 points from slippery Wisconsin 7-footer Frank Kaminsky and 27 from shooter Sam Dekker, who went 5-of-6 from three and poured salt on the lacerated ‘Cats with two back-to-back triples in the final two minutes of play.
Arizona made 28-of-30 free throws and both Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both had 17 apiece for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t enough to staunch Dekker and Kaminsky’s combined 46.
What turned into a shootout was actually a standoff at the half — a defensive battle that saw Wisconsin trailing by three, 33-30.
Arizona opened just 1-of-6 while the Badgers opened 3-of-10, but after a Sean Miller timeout at the 16-minute mark, Arizona launched a 10-4 run and made 10 of its last 12 shots of the half to lead heading into the locker room.
Wisconsin, who also trailed by three at the half last time the two faced off, had other plans than to fall to the Wildcats in the rematch.
Kaminsky, especially. The big man hit the Badgers’ first eight of the second half, and didn’t stop to wait for his team to catch up. Sixteen of his 29 points came in the final period. Dekker kept pace, hitting 20 of his 27 points in the second half.
Carried by a team 15-of-19 shooting from the field in the second half alongside a mind-blowing 10-of-12 made 3-pointers, Wisconsin rallied in turn behind Kaminsky and Dekker.
To reiterate, #Badgers shot 79% in the 2nd half against the 3rd-best team in the country in defensive efficiency.
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 29, 2015
The Wildcats’ second 3-pointer of the entire game came with 2:22 left in the game from Gabe York, who’d also had its first, and it was too little, too late.
Dekker answered York with a step-back three of his own, and the second round of salt came just 90 seconds later to send the Wildcats home:
— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) March 29, 2015
(And yes, that was Aaron Rodgers behind the Badgers bench.)
What were the numbers?
This is the first NCAA tournament Elite 8 matchup in 41 years, and the first time either team has come in to the rematch with 34 wins apiece.
Against one of the best man defenses in the nation, Wisconsin upped its previous average of 79 points per game in the tournament with its 85-point performance.
Deja vu was all too cruel to the ‘Cats, as Brandon Ashley got in foul trouble in the first 1:21 of the game and had to sit.
In last year’s loss, many said the absence of Ashley changed the game.
Ashley tried to make the most of his 21 minutes, however, scoring 17 points despite remaining in foul trouble throughout.
With 7:59 remaining, the ‘Cats hit their biggest deficit of the season at 11 points back.
They’d come within five twice in the game’s final minutes, but were stifled by a three both times.
While Arizona’s 93.3 percent shooting from the free throw line marks a record against Wisconsin of 28 makes on 30 attempts (they’d previously had sent opponents to the line less than eight times per game on average this year), chipping away a free throw at a time against the Badgers’ 3-point onslaught couldn’t possibly win the game.
And hitting just two of their six attempts from three (33.3 percent) didn’t help, either.
Wisconsin’s 10 second-half 3-pointers are tied for the most by any team in a half of the last six NCAA Tournaments.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2015
While the Wildcats head home, the Badgers are on to the first repeat Final Four appearance in school history.
Just for Fun
Like him or not (and it didn’t change the fact that Wisconsin was lights-out from three), Kaminsky did have what some referred to as a “Hollywood moment”:
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) March 28, 2015
He has been hanging out in Hollywood RT @RobDauster: Helluva flop, Frank.
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) March 28, 2015