The Badgers, who have been playing college basketball since the end of the 19th century, had only made it to one national final prior to this season. That appearance came all the way back in 1941, with Wisconsin winning their only title against Washington State by the score of 39-34. While the Badgers had a championship drought of 70+ years, they almost made it to the title game last year before falling to Kentucky by a single point just over a year ago. Luckily for Wisconsin, though, they returned nearly everyone a year later with the goal of not coming short this time.
Interestingly enough, Wisconsin's postseason run the past few weeks has been eerily familiar to last season as the Badgers once again drew Oregon in the Round of 32, Arizona in the Elite Eight and Kentucky in the Final Four. This time, however, the Badgers didn't falter to Kentucky and were able to advance to the title game on Monday night, earning a rematch with Duke after losing to the Blue Devils by 10 back in December.
The environment in Indianapolis heading into tonight was frenzied to say the least, with the shocking loss of Kentucky leading to a mass exodus of Wildcat fans as Badger fans quickly threw together makeshift plans to get to Indianapolis to support their team. The end result was while the title game was on a 'neutral' site and wasn't supposed to include Wisconsin, the end result was Lucas Oil Stadium became an impromptu home arena for Wisconsin. And it showed.
The crowd support clearly had an impact on the Badgers in the first half, with Ryan's team clearly feeding on the amped up fan base as Wisconsin ran back and forth with Duke the entire half. While the fast pace led to a few turnovers and sloppy play by both teams, the Badgers more than held their own. It wasn't a perfect half for the Badgers, though, with the 21st best shooting team in the nation only hitting on 40% of their field goals and Traevon Jackson playing horrible (1 of 6 from the field). Even more problematic was Wisconsin's inability to take advantage of Duke sitting Jahil Okafor and Justice Winslow at the end of the half, but just like in their game against Kentucky, Wisconsin was able to enter the locker rooms tied at the break.
Wisconsin was able to come out of the gate roaring, quickly opening a nine point lead on the Blue Devils (Duke's biggest deficit at that point of the tournament). Luckily for Duke, though, freshman Grayson Allen was able to keep Duke afloat when the Blue Devils offense stalled midway through the half. Placing the team on his back, Allen was able to answer an impressive Badgers run and kept Duke within reach with an impressive eight point burst. For a team more known for it's frontcourt stars, a pair of guards named Grayson Allen and Tyrus Jones were the stars for Duke after Okafor and Winslow struggled with fouls.
Duke's pair of guards ultimately led to the title game once again coming down to the wire for Wisconsin and Duke as the two teams went back and forth after Duke erased a nine point deficit. Tied at 54 Duke saw Tyrus Jones heat up, adding eight points, while Okafor finally got going as Duke opened up an eight point lead before Duke questionably pushed the pace in the closing minute, allowing Wisconsin to force a miss and narrow the lead back down to three with 50 seconds remaining. However, a pair of free throws by Tyrus Jones was enough to seal the deal as Duke came back to steal one from Wisconsin by the score of 68-63.