LOS ANGELES — For the second consecutive season, Wisconsin is heading back to the Final Four.
And for the second straight season, its Elite Eight victim was Arizona, as the Badgers beat the Wildcats 85-78 on Saturday in the West Regional final.
Frank Kaminsky lived up to his billing as the favorite for national player of the year, as the near 7-foot forward utilized his complete offensive game to score 29 points. The Wildcats — who had the fifth-best defense since 2006 according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric — threw everything they could at him, and still Kaminsky was simply unstoppable. Sam Dekker was equally as good in scoring 27, including an assassin-like 5-5 mark from 3 in the second half.
The best offense in the history of the KenPom database showed up big in the second half though, as Wisconsin dropped an absurd 1.62 points-per-possession mark against one of the best defenses in the country.
This undoubtedly will be a disappointing result for the Wildcats, who for the second year in a row couldn’t use what amounted to a largely pro-Arizona crowd in Southern California to beat the Badgers. Coach Sean Miller also continues to be one of the most snakebitten coaches in college hoops, as this will be his fourth exit in the Elite Eight in the past seven years with zero Final Fours to show for it.
The first half lived up to the hype with Arizona taking a 33-30 lead, as the two teams played a physical affair that resulted in all of the notable forwards having two fouls in the first half except Dekker. The Badgers got out to an early 10-2 start, with Kaminsky aggressively driving, scoring five of those points and getting two early fouls on Ashley. But Arizona kept chipping away, eventually taking a lead midway through the half behind six quick points from Ashley with those two fouls and terrific play from Hollis-Jefferson. Hollis-Jefferson aggressively attacked Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes at will, and finished with eight points and five rebounds.
The second half started with Wisconsin on a 14-3 run after three 3-pointers. Arizona brought it back within two, but the Badgers went on another dominant run of offense, and through the first 12 minutes of the half they were scoring 1.78 points-per-possession in the half. The Wildcats tried to bring it back, but Dekker wouldn’t have it, as he was a monster by knocking down five clutch 3s and scoring 20 second-half points.
The Badgers will move on to face the winner of Saturday’s Kentucky vs. Notre Dame Elite Eight game in Cleveland.