One-and-done is done – officially. Kentucky will not end its season perfect for a reason that makes sense: The experience of Wisconsin trumped raw talent.
The ballyhoo that had surrounded coach John Calipari’s talented ’Cats this season proved more background noise than anything else. For the Kentucky faithful got nothing for it except disappointment.
The team’s deep, young roster took the court Saturday night in Indianapolis and found its opponent ready and unafraid.
In the end, grit, determination and experience did the Wildcats in, and those traits displayed themselves in Technicolor on the boards. Note the glaring disparity in rebounds: Badgers 34, Kentucky 22.
“They did to us what we’ve been doing to other teams all season,” Calipari told the media after the loss. “They executed down the stretch, and we didn’t.”
Calipari’s analysis should surprise nobody who saw the Badgers roll through the Big Ten this season. They displayed a technical soundness not found in teams built around freshmen and sophomores.
But let’s not fool ourselves into believing technical soundness are code words for a lack of talent, because they aren’t on coach Bo Ryan’s team. Wisconsin boasts a big man in Frank Kaminsky who can play with anybody; the team has a shooter in Sam Dekker who can stretch a defense to its breaking point.
Every Badger plays hard – 40 minutes of hell for any opponent who tries to bang the boards with them.
Yet what did Wisconsin accomplish?
While the Badgers knocked out the No. 1 overall seed, they have another stiff challenge awaiting them: Duke.
Ryan understood that fact well, his mind having processed what victory over a giant meant.
"It gives us another 40 minutes, I know that," he said.
Should his Badgers go on and defeat Duke, Ryan and everybody else can weigh what using a college roster like a farm team, which Calipari does smartly, means for the game and its integrity.
Getting talented players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker or Trey Lyles to stick around for more than one season might produce a team. But that’s not likely to happen in Kentucky.
Wildcat fans can judge if restocking the roster season after season is the best road to another NCAA championship.
Kentucky tried it that way; it failed.
“We wanted to win a national title, and we didn’t do it,” freshman guard Tyler Ulis said afterward. “The season was a waste.”
Ulis was overly harsh. He didn’t take into account what the Badgers were. They were a very, very good team – yes, a team built over several seasons, not a roster of revolving talent.
On Monday night in Indianapolis, their team approach will be on display. They’ll be playing their own version of one-and-done. Win or lose, they’ll have no more games to play.
For this is it; this is March Madness winding to its conclusion; and it winds down without the team that most hoops experts predicted would win the title watching the final game on hi-def TV.
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(Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)