INDIANAPOLIS — Next in the way of Kentucky’s perfect season: Frank the Tank and his fun-loving band of Wisconsin teammates.
Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers were so loose they were giggling on the podium during interviews Friday, answering questions about what they eat (Kaminsky likes omelets with syrup on top), how they slept (Sam Dekker got eight solid hours) and what their word of the day is for the poor NCAA stenographers they discovered earlier at the tournament (Nigel Hayes went with “prestidigitation”).
The team they face Saturday, 38-0 Kentucky, is also trying to keep things pressure-free, and their coach, John Calipari, tried working some magic of his own with the numbers.
“Everybody is 0-0,” he said. “Whether you’re Duke, Michigan State, Wisconsin or us, everybody’s record is the same. We’re all feeling the same thing. We all want to win a national title.”
If the Wildcats do, they’ll be the first program since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to finish a season as undefeated champions — an accomplishment that hovers over everything this week at what is shaping up as a monumental Final Four.
“If we do complete that goal, I couldn’t even put it into words,” said Andrew Harrison, whose two free throws were the difference in the 68-66 win over Notre Dame in the Midwest regional final.
But undefeated doesn’t necessarily mean perfect, and Wisconsin is hardly in awe.
This is a rematch of last year’s semifinals. In that game, the Badgers (35-3) were leading Kentucky by two when Harrison’s twin brother, Aaron, spotted up from behind the upper-left part of the arc with 5.7 seconds left and made his second straight game-winning 3-pointer.
“He has that clutch gene,” Dekker said after that one.
One notable stat from that 74-73 thriller: Kaminsky finished with eight points and five rebounds.
The 7-foot center, who averages 18 points and almost nine rebounds this season and likely will go in the first round of the NBA draft, said he would have returned for his senior season either way. Still, the loss left a mark.
“It’s obviously motivating because you want to come back to this stage,” he said. “This is what seasons are remembered for. You remember the national champion at the end of the season.”
Win or lose, these Kentucky players will be remembered — and watched some more. Freshman Karl-Anthony Towns — likely to become one of Calipari’s much-discussed “one-and-dones” — is a probable lottery pick, as is junior Willie Cauley-Stein. The Harrison brothers and four or five more are also expected to wind up in the NBA, too.
Wisconsin has a few future pros — Kaminsky, Dekker and Hayes. But it’s no secret that the Badgers won’t win on raw talent.
“Do you think I have to tell my players that this is a big game or that Kentucky’s pretty good?” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “They are. I think our guys are astute enough to figure that part out.”