INDIANAPOLIS — In the end, it all slipped away so quickly.
Kentucky's dream of an unbeaten season, of a ninth national championship, seemed on course.
When Karl-Anthony Towns scored over Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky with 6:35 left, the Cats led 60-56.
As usual, the UK defense went into lock-down mode. The Cats held Wisconsin without a field goal for more than seven minutes.
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The Cats seemed on the way to a Monday night NCAA Championship Game meeting with destiny and Duke.
Then it all slipped away, in a stunning stretch of bad shots, shot-clock violations and stagnant Kentucky offensive possessions that will stalk the nightmares of John Calipari forever.
With UK unable to score, Wisconsin ended the game on a 15-4 run and finished off Kentucky's drive to 40-0 with a 71-64 win in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals before a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd of 72,238.
It is the Badgers (36-3) who will face Duke (34-4) in Monday's national championship game.
"We've been a finishing team," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. "They did to us what we've done to teams. They finished and we didn't. That's why they're still playing and we're not."
Though it appeared UK may have been deliberately slowing the tempo after it got ahead 60-56, Calipari said that was not the plan.
"We didn't slow it down," the UK coach said. "We were still trying to post the ball, still trying to run pick-and-rolls. They guarded us a little tight, the guys got a little tentative."
Three straight times, after Towns scored to put the Cats ahead 60-56, UK had the ball with a chance to extend its lead.
All season, Kentucky had been the team that made plays under game-winning pressure. You don't get to 38-0 without the ability to put your collective foot on necks and close games.
This time, UK kept running the shot clock down under 10 seconds. The Wildcats ended up either taking long contested jump shots or turning the ball over on shot-clock violations.
After UK failed to close the door, Wisconsin's Sam Dekker hit a driving layup with 4:26 left to pull the Badgers within 60-58. It was Wisconsin's first field goal since a Traevon Jackson layin at 11:36.
Kentucky took a shot-clock violation at 3:16, then Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes threw a shot into the bucket just ahead of the shot clock expiring to tie the game.
Suddenly, momentum was decked in red and white.
After Andrew Harrison missed a contested shot in the lane, Dekker — who torched Arizona in the West Region finals — hit a cold-blooded trey from the top of the key to put Wisconsin ahead for good.
Afterward, Calipari lamented that there had to be something he could have done to aid his team as its offense stagnated and the game slipped away.
"I didn't execute," Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison said in a subdued postgame news conference. "We didn't execute as a team. But me, being the point guard, I didn't do what the team needed me to do."
Listening, Calipari interjected and said of Harrison "He did fine. He did fine. No one player, no one on this team, is responsible for this loss."
For UK, much was written about how this season was "40-0 or bust."
Winning national championships is the goal at Kentucky, period. Still, I'm going to have a real hard time ever regarding the 2014-15 Cats as anything remotely close to a bust.
In a big-picture sense, a case can certainly be made that a program that has sent 14 first-round picks to the NBA in the Calipari era — and could send four, five more this year — should have more than one NCAA title to show for all that talent.
Plenty of time ahead to ruminate on that.
The Kentucky team that lost Saturday night after 38 straight wins played the game the right way — with effort and unselfishness. Off the court, it seemed like every week you'd hear a new story about a UK player reaching out to a cancer-stricken child or someone down on their luck.
What was shocking about Saturday was that, after Kentucky seemed to have win No. 39 in grasp, how quickly it all slipped away.
"The last five minutes are the ball game," UK's Willie Cauley-Stein said. "We didn't make plays in the last five minutes to hold them or push (the lead) out. If you don't make plays in the last five minutes, you will lose."
Two wins short of history, Kentucky lost.