Kentucky 63, Wisconsin 57
-- With 151/2 minutes to play tonight, it looked bad for No. 1 Kentucky.
At the same moment senior leader Keith Bogans was limping on the sideline, Wisconsin's Kirk Penney was drilling his fifth three-pointer to give the Badgers a two-point lead. Bogans was shaking his head: He could not return after spraining an ankle in a collision with Penney late in the first half. The crowd of 28,168 at the Metrodome, predominantly Badgers fans from nearby Wisconsin, was in an uproar, sensing a dramatic upset.
But it was not to be. Kentucky, a tall, strong, veteran team, remained steady without Bogans and kept to its game plan of pounding the ball inside to 6-foot-9 Marquis Estill, the Wildcats' "Mr. Inside."
The Badgers had no answer for Estill, who dominated from close range with an assortment of dunks, layins and soft hook shots for 28 points to lead the Wildcats to a 63-57 victory in the NCAA's Midwest Region semifinal.
Cliff Hawkins, Estill, Chuck Hayes, Gerald Fitch and Jules Camara all scored baskets to give Kentucky breathing room at 48-42 -- suggesting that the Wildcats could win without Bogans, who was limited to five points in just 15 minutes. Hayes, a 6-6 sophomore, shut out Penney the rest of the way. Erik Daniels, a 6-8 junior, tapped in a missed layup by Estill after Wisconsin had cut the lead to 56-55 with 1 minute 33 seconds to play, and the Badgers never challenged afterward as Kentucky won its 26th straight.
"We feel very good about this win. It was a very gritty effort," Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith said. "After Keith Bogans got hurt and our shots hadn't been dropping, we kept our composure and found a way to win."
Smith said it was uncertain whether or not Bogans will be able to play in Saturday's regional final, when Kentucky will face Marquette. But the coach remained optimistic.
"Keith has a high ankle sprain," he said. "They took an X-ray, and there's no crack or anything. I hope he'll be ready Saturday."
Bogans leads the team in scoring, steals and assists. The Wildcats likely will need him Saturday, but even before he was hurt tonight, Estill had taken over the Kentucky offense.
The Wildcats not only used their height advantage well, they seemed to know there was no way Wisconsin could stop them inside. After a strong first half, Estill was confident he could keep it going. "I knew they were going to front me, stand behind me. I knew they wouldn't make any changes [at the half]," he said.
The Badgers didn't because they didn't have the manpower to match Kentucky. They succeeded in keeping the score low. Their tallest player, 6-8 Mike Wilkinson, scored all 13 points in the second half. But he was helpless to stop Estill from close range, and the Wildcats' overall size advantage wore down his teammates as well.
"Keith is a big part of our team," Fitch said. "But we have a lot of guys who can step up. And we had a lot of guys step up."
Smith praised Hayes for his defensive work on Penney, a senior from New Zealand with extensive international experience.
"Chuck said, 'I can guard him. I can control him,' " Smith said. And Hayes did. His defense along with Estill's offense enabled Kentucky (32-3) to extend its winning streak to fourth-longest in the school's 100 years of basketball. The last time the Wildcats lost was to Louisville in December.
"We played against one of the best defensive teams in the country in Wisconsin. Nothing came easy," Smith said. "But I was very pleased with our patience and ball movement down the stretch."