INDIANAPOLIS — Four teams, two games, one goal. A night at the Final Four.
Or how Wisconsin crashed the Kentucky-Duke national championship game.
5:15 p.m. Well, here’s one way to get good seats to the Final Four. Fifty minutes before the first game, Lucas Oil Stadium is starting to fill with the obscure and the famous — and that would include row A of courtside section 140.
In the first 14 seats of the row are three past national champion coaches — Tubby Smith, Lute Olson and Steve Fisher.
6 p.m. Talk about your boffo openings. Four athletes — one from each Final Four school — belt out the national anthem. A football player from Duke, women’s soccer players from Michigan State and Kentucky, and Wisconsin sophomore forward Vitto Brown, who is already in his Badgers red uniform for the second game. Fireworks pop from the ceiling of the stadium on the last notes. Top that, Jahlil Okafor and Travis Trice.
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|Kroll: Coach K eyes perfect 3-for-3 in Indy Final Fours|
6:13 p.m. So much for having trouble shooting in such a wide open place. Michigan State buries its first four 3-pointers — three by Denzel Valentine — to take a 14-6 lead by the first TV timeout.
6:31 p.m. Delete that. The Spartans miss six of their next seven shots and score two points in nearly eight minutes.
6:36 p.m. During a timeout, the eight newest inductees to the college basketball Hall of Fame are introduced. Is that really John Havlicek? Quinn Buckner is out there, too, the point guard for Indiana in 1976, whose reign as the last unbeaten champion is under imminent Kentucky threat.
6:40 p.m. Judging by early returns, Mike Krzyzewski is going to use his stool on the elevated court a lot more than Tom Izzo is going to use his.
6:42 p.m. The game suddenly sways toward Duke, with its defensive temperature flipped to high heat. A Quinn Cook 3-pointer makes it 26-20, as Izzo crosses his arms in concern. A Tyus Jones driving layup pushes it to 28-20.
6:58 p.m. The Michigan State futility continues. Branden Dawson slaps his hands in frustration after missing a layup. Duke’s halftime lead ends up 36-25. The Spartans’ quick start turns out to be a mirage. After scoring 14 points the first 3:41, they score 11 in the next 16:19, missing 17 of 20 shots.
7:25 p.m. The second half starts and nothing has changed. When Okafor gets a fastbreak dunk to make it 44-27, Cook slaps the court with both hands again, and again, and again. The Blue Devils clearly smell blood. Are Kentucky and Wisconsin ready?
7:55 p.m. It’s time for the Duke Crazy Towel Guy. His real name is Herb Adubauer, he’s 74, and each and every game back in Cameron Indoor Stadium — when cued by the Crazies — he gets up from his seat during a second half timeout and waves his towel as if he is trying to signal a rescue helicopter from a deserted island. The kids love it. After Krzyzewski asks for a timeout, the Blue Devil band calls out his name, and there he is, on the front row at one end, towel ready. His seats have definitely improved for the Final Four.
8:21 p.m. The lead is 18 with 1:12 left, and the Duke students begin chanting “Our house!” Who’s to question them? The Blue Devils are about to be 3-0 in Lucas Oil Stadium in the Final Four.
8:23 p.m. It ends 81-61. As they shake hands at midcourt, Izzo pats Krzyzewski on the arm and they share a few words. Izzo is now 1-9 against Krzyzewski, and there is no relief in sight. “After the first four minutes,” Krzyzewski says on a television interview, “we were a completely different team.”
8:42 p.m. Izzo says, “I feel bad because I don’t think people got to see the team that has won 12 of the last 15 games.” Valentine mentions what he had told Izzo in the last minutes of the game. “I’m going to get you here next year, Coach.”
8:50 p.m. In the Duke locker room, Jones is saying “defense is what wins you games, especially in the postseason. We’ve known that since the beginning of the tournament.” And thoughts are already turning to Monday night. “We had one goal when the year began. We’re going to try to make that happen,” Jones says. “This is why we came here. For it to be right in front of us, 40 minutes away, means everything.”
9:03 p.m. Back on the court, the lineups for Kentucky and Wisconsin have been introduced. John Calipari and Bo Ryan shake hands and smile; a guy in a blue tie and another guy in a red tie.
9:06 p.m. A 3-pointer, an alley-oop for a dunk, and Kentucky leads 5-0 in 49 seconds. Uh-oh.
9:12 p.m. No uh-oh. By the first timeout, it’s 9-9.
9:29 p.m. Sam Dekker powers past Devin Booker to score and draws a foul, looks up at the crowd and points to his biceps. The Wisconsin lead is 23-14, and the Badgers are not looking particularly in awe.
9:48 p.m. Nigel Hayes grabs Wisconsin’s seventh offensive rebound of the half. Kentucky has one. Calipari holds his hands around an imaginary basketball and screams at his players to rebound.
9:51 p.m. Introducing the Kentucky defense. A double team pries the ball loose from Zak Showalter, Andrew Harrison throws a long pass to Trey Lyles for a slam and the Wildcats have a 36-34 lead.
9:52 p.m. But not for long. Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater makes it 36-36, the seventh tie of the half. Kentucky has shot 60 percent, and the two teams have combined for only seven turnovers. What a game.
10:21 p.m. It stays that way. Wisconsin hits five of its first six shots of the second half, including power moves in the face of Kentucky muscle by Frank Kaminsky and Dekker, and the Badger lead goes to 49-44.
10:26 p.m. This is getting serious. Koenig’s 3-pointer makes it 52-44 with 14:41. Calipari timeout. Does Kentucky understand the urgency?
10:40 p.m. The Wildcats do. Their defense clearly has reached its crisis-control gear, and the normally sure-handed Badgers commit three turnovers in four possessions. It’s obviously tense. Calipari is coaching with his shirt untucked.
10:42 p.m. The Badgers have scored one field goal in five minutes, and Karl-Anthony Towns pulls Kentucky even at 56 with 8:28 left.
10:50 p.m. Could this be the possession that saves Kentucky? Towns twice gets offensive rebounds, then scores over Kaminsky for a 60-56 lead. Meanwhile, the Badgers have gone 1-for-8 with five turnovers since Koenig’s 3-pointer. Calipari’s shirt is tucked back in.
10:57 p.m. Kentucky goes three consecutive possessions without hitting the rim before the shot clock expires. That’s asking for trouble. Or begging for it.
11:03 p.m. Trouble, it is. Plus controversy. When Hayes rebounds his own shot — which does not hit the rim — and scores for a 60-60 tie, it looks like a great play. Replays suggest the shot clock had expired and should not have counted, but it is not a reviewable play until the final two minutes. Thirty-eight seconds later, it’s reviewable. Bad Kentucky break. But then, officials had also missed Lyles slapping Josh Gasser in the face, which could have been ruled a flagrant foul, so maybe it all evens out. Andrew Harrison misses, Dekker nails a 3-pointer and the Badgers have a 63-60 led with 98 seconds left.
11:06 p.m. The shadows darken over the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Kaminsky is fouled on one of his spin moves and hits both free throws to make it 66-63 with 24.5 seconds. History, perfection, Kentucky, all teeter on the brink.
11:10 p.m. Towns is fouled, makes one but misses his second. Koenig makes two free throws for Wisconsin to make it 68-64 with 10 seconds left. It is about …
11:14 p.m. Over. The Badgers clinch it with free throws to win 71-64. The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers can stand tall. Kentucky fell here in the semifinal, as 34-0 UNLV did in 1991. Indianapolis: Where unbeaten Final Four teams come to die. It is Wisconsin’s first Final Four victory since 1941. If Kentucky wants to look on the stat sheet to find a reason, the Wildcats can notice the Wisconsin’s 34-22 rebounding dominance. Also Kaminsky and Dekker. Against the most feared defense in the land, the two main Badgers hit 13 of 20 shots and combine for 36 points.
11:18 p.m. The Wildcats are long gone from the court, to endure this disappointment possibly forever. Calipari will later say he told them, “No one’s ever going to do what you just did. What you just did is history, and it’s not changing.” The Badgers are still out there. Dekker and Kaminsky are over by the rail of the Wisconsin section, hugging family and friends. It’s Kaminsky’s 22nd birthday, after all. “The best birthday present I’ve ever had,” he says.
11:40 p.m. The 38-1 Wildcats discuss a defeat for the first time. Had the idea of a perfect season been a burden too heavy to carry in the end? “I don’t think it weighed on us, the 40-0 hype,” Willie Cauley-Stein says. “If that was the case, we would have lost a long time ago,” said Calipari. “I think what impacted the game the most was Wisconsin … I’ll live with it. I’ve done this a long time.”
11:50 p.m. The Badgers are on the dais. No, the unbeaten record had not been what pushed them onward to this. “It didn’t matter who was in front of us,” Dekker says. “We wanted a chance to play for the national championship.”
They are wearing their red warmup shirts with one message on the front: “Make ‘Em Believe.” And they have.
Duke is next. “A team that kicked our butt,’’ Bo Ryan said, remembering an 80-70 loss at home against the Blue Devils in December. Saturday is a night the Badgers never want to let go.
But they must.