by Beverly Holmes
The NCAA Division I men’s national championship game was played Monday night. After all the upsets and close calls in March, No. 1 seeds Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin all made it to the Final Four. The only underdog to make it to Indianapolis was No. 7-seed Michigan State, but few were really surprised to find the team there, given Coach Tom Izzo’s stellar reputation around tournament time.
One of the biggest games (if not the biggest game) of the tournament was not the National Championship game, but rather the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats finally taking on a championship-caliber team in Wisconsin. The showdown between the two teams proved to be worth the hype. Wisconsin had the edge to defeat the undefeated and earn the right to play in the national title game.
Wisconsin faced a tough road leading to the National Championship game Monday night. Many analysts thought the team had one of the toughest roads for a No. 1 seed to get to the championship game. Four of its five games leading to the national championship game were decided by only seven points. Duke, on the other hand, won most of its games in the tournament with ease, breezing by Michigan State with a 20-point margin of victory.
Once the ball was tipped in the air at 8:18 p.m. Monday night for the Championship game between Duke and Wisconsin, both squads seemed evenly matched. Both coaches pushed their teams to stingy defenses and efficient offenses. Both teams’ focus and intensity were clearly evident throughout the matchup. It was a back-and-forth game, tied at half time 31-31.
Wisconsin was able to pull away towards the 12-minute mark. Duke found themselves down nine and Jahlil Okafor, the Devils’ freshman star, on the bench in foul trouble. Grayson Allen, the eighth man in rotation for the Blue Devils heard his number called, and he responded on the big stage. He came in and nailed a three, and on the ensuing possession converted a three-point play. Thanks to Allen and Tyus Jones, Duke regained its offensive rhythm, and it was a battle until the end. Allen and Jones scored 32 of Duke’s 36 second-half points, with Okafor adding the other four.
The senior forward for Wisconsin and Associated Press player of the year, Frank Kaminsky, certainly did his part to keep Wisconsin in the game. With the team down eight with a little over a minute to go, Kaminsky hit a clutch three-pointer and his teammate Nigel Hayes slammed a dunk to pull the Badgers within three, 66-63. With time running down, Wisconsin fouled to keep the game close, but Jones came through, hitting the clutch free throws which put Duke ahead by five. Wisconsin shot some desperation three-pointers at the end, but none fell and Duke pulled out the comeback victory 68-63.
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In the end, Duke shot the ball 47 percent and 80 percent at the free throw line, and Wisconsin shot the ball 41 percent and 60 percent, respectively. Jones, the freshman guard, finished the game with 23 points, 19 of them coming in the second half, and he was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four.
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Duke’s win gave Coach Mike Krzyzewski his fifth National Championship and placed his name in the history books. The only other Men’s NCAA Division I Basketball coach to win more is the legendary John Wooden, who has 10 titles. As a program, Duke is now tied with Indiana and North Carolina with five National Championships, sitting behind Kentucky who have eight and UCLA with 11.