INDIANAPOLIS — Kentucky versus Duke. Two big men expected to vie for the No. 1 spot in this year's NBA Draft. Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor seem naturals for a showdown. This-town-isn't-big-enough-for-the-two-of-us kind of stuff.
Who knew Towns and Okafor form a mutual admiration society?
"Really great friends," Towns said Friday. "Most of the time, no one knows that. We're actually really great friends."
The most celebrated freshmen on this season's Kentucky and Duke teams got to know each other as celebrated high school prospects. While helping lead their teams to the Final Four, Towns and Okafor stayed in regular contact, even wishing each other a happy birthday.
"We've been having great conversations all year long," Towns said. "Texting each other back and forth. I think the biggest thing about him is his heart is bigger than his game. I love that about him."
Of course, Kentucky can only play Duke in Monday night's national championship game. First, UK must beat Wisconsin while Duke must beat Michigan State in Saturday's semifinals.
If Kentucky plays Duke, respect will flow between the two freshmen.
"Just being a fan of basketball, I love watching Karl," Okafor said. "He's just an amazing player."
Right back at you, big fella, Towns said.
"His post game is absolutely amazing," he said of Okafor. "His footwork is amazing.
"The thing I love about him is he's a great human being."
Wisconsin's defensive stopper on the perimeter, Josh Gasser, needed no help in remembering the details of Aaron Harrison's winning shot for Kentucky in last year's Final Four semifinal.
"We played it exactly like we wanted to," Gasser said Friday. "Definitely, these past few days, it's shown up a little bit more than we'd like. It's great to have another shot at Kentucky."
Gasser acknowledged his surprise that Harrison made the shot, even though Harrison hit similar game-winners against Louisville and Michigan in the previous week or so.
"That's a shot he hadn't taken" against Wisconsin, Gasser said. "I covered him the whole game. I think he had one bucket. It was a fast-break layup."
Actually, Harrison had made two shots before making his patented three-pointer from the left side.
"We played it exactly like we'd been playing it the whole game," Gasser said. "Contested it well. I think, actually, our fingers interlocked kind of thing. I remember feeling that.
"When it left his hand, I was feeling pretty good about it. Then, obviously, it rattled in."
Joining Gasser in a state of disbelief was UK's Willie Cauley-Stein, who had injured an ankle against Louisville and watched the Wisconsin game from the bench.
"At first, you can't believe he did it again," Cauley-Stein said of his reaction to Harrison's shot against Wisconsin. "You're kind of looking at him. 'I don't know how you do it.'"
In the Wisconsin locker room after the game, Frank Kaminsky suggested that Harrison's shot would spur the Badgers.
"That's a shot that's going to stick in our minds for the rest of our lives," he said last April.
Wisconsin players downplayed revenge as a motive against Kentucky on Saturday. But Kaminsky acknowledged the irresistible quality of that story line.
"It's a great story," he said. "The way we lost. To come back and beat them on the same stage. It'd be like a storybook ending, almost."
Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan recoiled from the notion of revenge. "If you have to use that kind of motivation to get a team ready to play, how are you going to top it for the next game?" he said.
Cauley-Stein scoffed at the notion of revenge being a factor.
"If they beat us last year, that wouldn't be in my head," he said.
What's in UK's head? "We're trying to make history," Cauley-Stein said.
Hunter vs. hunter
Towns shrugged at the notion of Wisconsin thirsting for this chance to beat Kentucky.
"All year we've been the hunted," he said. "We've always been the prey.
"This game is two hunters going after each other."
UK freshman Trey Lyles is from Indianapolis. "An exciting moment for me and my family," he said. "I'm just trying to approach it like any other game."
Cauley-Stein described Lyles as "super crafty."
In case reporters didn't hear him, he repeated himself.
"Super crafty. One of the craftiest dudes I've ever played with. Now, it's got to the point he knows he's the best player on the floor."
UK-Wisconsin marks the sixth time teams have met in back-to-back Final Fours. The others are California-Cincinnati in 1959-60, UCLA-Houston in 1967-68, Florida-UCLA in 2006-07, Ohio State-Cincinnati in 1961-62 and UNLV-Duke in 1990-91.