INDIANAPOLIS -- Two nights after Wisconsin stood in the way of history, the Badgers are poised to make some of their own. Only Duke, the lone team this year to come away from a game at the Kohl Center unscathed, stands in their way.
Anytime a national title is on the line, there is history to be made. But if the Badgers (36-3) are able to avenge their Dec. 3 loss to the Blue Devils (34-4), they will take home the program's first national title since 1941, become the first team in NCAA history to win the tournament having faced the highest possible seed in each round and give the Big Ten its first single-season football and men's basketball titles since... 1941.
"To be able to beat North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, and now have a chance at Duke, that is pretty remarkable for a school that is not considered a powerhouse," senior Josh Gasser said Sunday. "We just have to try and get one more."
While the Badgers probably cemented a spot in the college basketball archives when they ended Kentucky's undefeated season Saturday night, they still haven't made their own history and in some respects, the job they set out to do after losing to Kentucky last April is not yet finished.
"They know that they have a chance to make a mark in history. They understand that. They've already done some of that," head coach Bo Ryan said. "But when you're an athlete and you're competing, there's unfinished business here."
One of the challenges Wisconsin will face, besides a Duke team that shot 65 percent at the Kohl Center just a few months ago, is the task of turning the page after picking up what was arguably the biggest win in school history less than 48 hours ago.
"We've been in games where we have to play back-to-back," sophomore Bronson Koenig said. "So we're just going to put that one behind us. We know what we have to do to take care of our bodies, to get some rest and get ready for Duke."
"I've been reminded in a few text messages that Finland is Duke," Ryan added, referencing the 1980 Olympic Hockey gold-medal game the U.S. had to win after knocking off the vaunted USSR in a semifinal matchup. "We know we have some work to do."
Wisconsin is playing in the national title game because it has been adept at turning the page, flipping the switch from celebration to intense focus with an uncommon ease.
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National championship preview, prediction
After a program-changing victory over Kentucky, Wisconsin faces Duke for the NCAA tournament championship. Can the Badgers keep the magic rolling?
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But Duke provides a tough test to pass with a week to prepare, let alone a single day. The Blue Devils have two potential No. 1 picks in this year's NBA draft, and during the tournament, have started to defend at a level commensurate with the top-five offense they have been for most of the year.
"This is the national championship and they are here for a reason," senior Frank Kaminsky said. "They have a lot of great players and a great coach, so it's not going to be easy by any means."
Continuing a theme that has lasted for the majority of Wisconsin's unusual tournament run, the Badgers have a recent matchup to build off of and perhaps even a bit of revenge to fall back on for motivation.
"I don't think we played very well at all in that game," Kaminsky added. "It was early in the season and we've grown a lot since then. But at the same time, they've grown up a lot since then, too. It's going to be a good matchup."
At the end of the day, it's a matchup Wisconsin was destined to face. Reaching the Final Four for a second consecutive season had to come via Arizona and the route to Monday could go through Kentucky and Kentucky alone. Now Duke stands as the final test, and if the Badgers pass, there will be no doubt as to their place alone in the college basketball history books.