INDIANAPOLIS — Redemption trumped perfection.
If Kentucky had gone 38 straight games without a loss, Wisconsin had gone a whole year thinking about a loss.
In 2014, it was Kentucky that broke Wisconsin's heart with a last-second shot to win a national semifinal of the NCAA Tournament and proceed to the national title game.
In 2015, it was Wisconsin that broke Kentucky's heart — and a 38-game winning streak — with a 71-64 victory in a national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium.
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Wisconsin advances to Monday night's finals against Duke, which whipped Michigan State 81-61 in Saturday night's first game. Kentucky-Duke in the final game was not to be, thanks to a determined group of Badgers, who outscored the Cats 15-4 over the game's final 6:35.
John Calipari's club was left to think of two things — how its season ended at 38-1 and how the Cats let it get away.
Up 60-56 with 6:35 to go, Kentucky had a chance to put away the Big Ten champs, but couldn't find a way to even get the ball to the rim. Three straight times the Cats came down the floor and three straight times Kentucky committed a shot clock violation.
The first happened with 5:30 left. The second happened with 4:41 left. After Wisconsin's Sam Dekker scored to cut the UK lead to 60-58, Kentucky did it again, failing to draw iron until the shot clock sounded with 3:16 remaining.
And when Dekker nailed a stepback dagger of a three-pointer with 1:41 left to give Wisconsin a 63-60 lead, Kentucky wasn't just on the ropes. The Cats were taking a standing eight count.
"They did to us what we have done to teams," Calipari said. "We normally execute down the stretch and we didn't."
In the end, the nation's best defensive team, one of the better defensive teams in history, couldn't get it done on offense when it needed to most. The Cats scored just one field goal in the final 6:34, that when Aaron Harrison drove to the bucket for an old-fashioned three-point play with 56 seconds left.
But Wisconsin made eight of 10 free throws over the final 1:06 to erase the bitter taste of last year, which the Badgers admitted had fueled their season.
Before Saturday's game, Calipari said, "We're undefeated but we're not perfect."
If this team couldn't achieve perfection, you wonder if any team can anymore. The 1976 Indiana team remains the last undefeated national champ, the Hoosiers going 32-0.
Kentucky became the third team since then to suffer its first loss of the season in the Final Four. It happened to Indiana State, which lost to Michigan State in the championship game of 1979. It happened to UNLV, which lost to Duke in the semifinals in 1991.
After the sting has worn off, no doubt Kentucky will appreciate the accomplishments of what was a wondrous season. Kentucky finished the regular season undefeated. It won the SEC Tournament. It was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It won 38 straight games.
It built its place in UK basketball history not just with the victories but with a sacrifice and team effort that belied a team made up of multiple McDonald's All-Americans.
"Could not be more proud of this group of young people," Calipari said. "What they did all year, took us all on a ride, our staff, our school, our state. We all wanted to win those last two. These kids wanted to in the worst way."
You could tell that on the floor from the stunned looks on the faces of the Kentucky players. You could tell in the postgame press conference. Karl-Anthony Towns sat with his chin on his hand, his head down. Andrew Harrison put his arms around Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison.
"This season is historic," Calipari said. "I just can't believe anybody is going to do what these kids did to get to this spot unblemished."
At Kentucky, the ultimate goal is hanging banners, but 38-1 won't be forgotten.
"It didn't end like it was supposed to," said Aaron Harrison before tipping his hat to Wisconsin. "They deserved the game."