Duke and Wisconsin met for the National Championship on April 6 in a game that is sure to be a classic. The Blue Devils took the lead with three-and-a-half minutes left, their first lead since the final four minutes of the first half. Duke held onto this lead to cement their astounding 68-63 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. This was the basketball dynasty’s fifth championship title, all of which have been won under the guidance of Coach K.
Four teams remained as play began Saturday night, and by the end of the night two teams stood to fight for the National Championship on Monday night. In the opener, powerhouse Duke, led by freshman Jahlil Okafor, played the underdog seven-seed Michigan State Spartans, who have relied on sharpshooting and team defense to advance past much more athletic and experienced teams. Michigan State entered Saturday night having beaten the likes of Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville to advance to the Final Four, all in relatively close games. Duke, on the other hand, steamrolled its way past its competition, with its smothering man-to-man defense and strong
inside-out play to generate offense.
Michigan State began Saturday’s game in the same fashion in which it had gotten to Indianapolis. They hit their first four three-pointers, and forced Duke to turn the ball over, jumping out to a 14-6 lead, sending Spartan fans into an absolute frenzy. However, Duke was able to right the ship, and began to use their athleticism to attack the rim and cause Michigan State to foul. Led by Okafor, who was able to assert his dominance on the low block by taking advantage of the smaller Spartan defenders, Duke closed the half on a 30-11 run and led 36-25 at the break. The second half was no different to the delight of Blue Devils fans, as Duke continued to pound the ball inside where Michigan State had no answer. Behind Justise Winslow’s 19 points, Okafor’s 18 points and the guards’ ability to run the offense right through Michigan State, Duke won the game by a final score of 81-61.
In the other semifinal, Wisconsin and the already legendary Kentucky Wildcats faced off. Although both were number one seeds, Kentucky has been widely considered one of the best college basketball teams ever put together and the odds seemed slim for a Wisconsin team that struggled to match up with the size and physicality of Kentucky on paper.
However, the first half was highly competitive, with Wisconsin using its ability to set screens to give their shooters space to hit jumpers to negate the advantage Kentucky had on the inside. Wisconsin built up a nine-point lead in the middle of the first half, only for Kentucky to find its stride and tie the game at the half.
The second half again was full of back and forth action, with Wisconsin still able to find space on the perimeter to hit jumpers, and Kentucky still able to run the offense through their big men to create space inside and out. Badger sharpshooters Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker led the assault, both from the inside and outside to keep Wisconsin competitive with Kentucky’s ability to score inside. With 1:44 left, Sam Dekker, who played hero against Arizona, hit a huge three to break a tie score and give Wisconsin a three point advantage. From there, Wisconsin was able to disrupt the rhythm of Kentucky on the offensive end, swarming the ball when it was passed inside. An Aaron Harrison three-point play to bring the score to within one was the closest Kentucky would come, as Wisconsin went 7-8 from the free throw line to ice the game. The Badgers spoiled Kentucky’s chance at a perfect season, but they will still be remembered as one of the most dominant teams in the past 50 years. Ultimately, Wisconsin and Duke were the victors and advanced to the National Championship. The Badgers, who had not won a National Championship since 1941, were up against Coach Krzyzewski’s storied Blue Devil squad. The game remained close throughout its entirety, as the first half ended with a 31-31 tie.
The Badgers started the second half strong, creating a 38-33 lead in the first two minutes of play. NCAA Player of the Year Kaminsky scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half. However, Kaminsky and Dekker’s efforts were not enough to stop Duke. Freshman phenoms Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were too much for the Badgers to handle as the freshmen scored 44 of Duke’s 68 total points. With 4:09 left, Jones made a crucial three point jumper that brought Duke to a 59-58 lead. After a Duke timeout, Okafor and Jones combined for another seven points, bringing Duke’s lead up to eight points with 1:24 on the clock. Despite Kaminsky’s best efforts, Duke bested Wisconsin for a 68-63 victory to claim the title. This has been a memorable season for Duke, as Coach Krzyzewski won his 1,000th game and the team earned their fifth National Championship title.