INDIANAPOLIS — On the eve of the Final Four, Willie Cauley-Stein saw this Kentucky team's place in history secure.
"If we end up winning it all, then we'll go down in history," he said Friday. "If we end up losing, we will still go down in history being talked about that we were undefeated until we lost it. So either way, we'll be talked about. But we want to be talked about in a good way, not a letdown way."
Either destiny seems possible when Kentucky plays Wisconsin in a national semifinal Saturday night.
The Badgers have been described as like Notre Dame, which played Kentucky to the final shot in the Midwest Region finals Saturday. Experienced. Disciplined. Patient. ... and bigger than the Irish.
The patient part touches a nerve.
When asked to describe Wisconsin's style, All-American Frank Kaminsky began by saying, "More fast-paced" before adding, "but efficient. Defensive-minded, but can score points."
Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan noted that — surprise — his Badgers were the highest-scoring team in last year's NCAA Tournament.
"OK, we've been efficient," he said. "... It still is quite amazing, and, actually people help us when they ignore the fact that we can score points because it tells us a lot about the other people who think that we don't."
UK Coach John Calipari suggested that his team's 68-66 survive-and-advance victory over Notre Dame serves as good preparation for Wisconsin.
"Playing a team like Notre Dame, who is an unbelievable shooting team, passing team, cutting team, efficient offensively, it was good for us," Calipari said. "And we had to play near perfect down the stretch to try to win the game. And the guys did."
Kaminsky, the recipient of two national player of the year awards Friday (by the United States Basketball Writers Association and The Associated Press), is first among equals. He leads the Badgers in scoring (18.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). A 7-footer, he teams with 6-9 Sam Dekker and 6-8 Nigel Hayes to give Wisconsin a front line that can look Kentucky in the eye.
"I think he's a one-of-a-kind player," UK's Karl-Anthony Towns said of Kaminsky. "Some people can have shooting ability, and lack the low post. Some people can have the low post, but lack the shooting ability. He's a one-of-a-kind player."
No statistic better reflects Kaminsky's value than this: When he's been on the floor, Wisconsin has outscored its opponents by 583 points. When he's been on the bench, opponents have outscored the Badgers by 12.
Wisconsin (35-3) leads the nation in fewest turnovers (7.4 per game), which could stifle Kentucky's resistance-is-futile transition game.
The Badgers also possess the kind of perimeter shooting coaches have said all season makes for competitive games against Kentucky. Kaminsky has made 41.5 percent of his three-point shots. Dekker has made 13 of 27 shots from beyond the arc in this tournament.
Wisconsin doesn't foul. The Badgers averaged 12.5 fouls. Its opponents average 11.6 free-throw attempts. By contrast, UK averages 24.6 free-throw attempts (27.0 in this NCAA Tournament).
"He plays with his feet more so than a lot of other 7-footers I've seen," Ryan said of Kaminsky, who averages 1.6 fouls per game. "He doesn't reach in. He doesn't try to block every shot. Wisconsin has blocked 124 shots, or less than half of Kentucky's 264. It's not the Badgers' style.
"We try to keep our feet on the ground," Ryan said. "We try to chest up with our hands straight up."
To explain the defense without fouling, Kaminsky credited Ryan, the winningest coach (by percentage) in Big Ten history.
"He knows what the refs are looking for," said Kaminsky, who noted how Ryan reviews foul calls with his players. "He'll even show us fouls we got away with, so we can learn from that.
"Staying out of foul trouble in this game is going to be important."
Of course, every Kentucky opponent has had its plan. None has beaten Kentucky.
That might be the same Saturday night. But Cauley-Stein suggested this next chapter in UK history will be written in sweat.
"They're going to make us guard for 25 seconds," he said of the Badgers. "Then in the last 10 seconds, they're going to try to isolate somebody. It's tough to guard.."