INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Wisconsin Badgers suffered their first loss of the season, an 80-70 setback to the Duke Blue Devils on Dec. 3, the Badgers weren’t exactly sitting around plotting their revenge.
They’ll get a shot at it anyway on Monday with the national title at stake.
"When the brackets came out, if you said we’d be playing Duke, we’d be pretty happy because that meant we’d be in the championship game," Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said. "If you want to be the national champs, you’ve got to play the best teams in the country, and Duke is definitely that."
It’s the first championship game rematch of a regular-season meeting since the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks in 2012. The past three times regular-season opponents met for the national title, the team that won the first meeting won on Monday night, as well. That goes for the Connecticut Huskies beating Kentucky in 2011 and the North Carolina Tar Heels beating the Michigan State Spartans in 2009.
Duke point guard Tyus Jones said the Blue Devils would put aside their December victory while preparing for Monday night. They’ve already gotten practice forgetting the past. They did it before facing the Spartans in the national semifinals on Saturday after beating them 81-71 on Nov. 18.
"It’s the national championship game, so you can’t look at it as we’ve played them already," Jones said. "... We played those teams back in November and December, so both those teams have gotten a lot better -- along with ourselves."
Duke's performance is something that still stands out on Wisconsin's résumé. The Badgers haven’t allowed 80 points to anyone else this season. And they certainly haven’t allowed another team to shoot 65 percent from the field -- including 71 percent in the second half -- like Duke did.
"We weren’t playing our best basketball at that point in time in December," Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig said. "Duke shot 65 percent, so hopefully they don’t do that again [Monday], but it’s NCAA tournament, so you don’t really know what’s going to happen."
Don’t go rushing to the WatchESPN app to replay the first meeting just yet. If you do, the teams will look markedly different from what they are now.
In December, Amile Jefferson was in the starting lineup for Duke and Rasheed Sulaimon was a spark from off the bench. Sulaimon, who was dismissed from the team in January, scored 14 points against the Badgers.
Traevon Jackson was Wisconsin’s starting point guard and pumped in a career-high 25 points against the Blue Devils. Jackson missed 19 games after suffering a foot injury, returning for the Badgers' past three NCAA tournament games.
Jackson, who was replaced by Koenig in the starting lineup, gave a boost to the Badgers against Kentucky with six points and two assists in 12 minutes -- his best performance since returning. Although he is not the same player he was in December, he said Wisconsin is much better.
"We’re more confident, definitely," Jackson said. "That was our first loss, so it was in a moment to where we're like, we’ve been in those moments more now. We’ve been in games where we’ve been down. We’ve been in pressure environments against great teams, so it’s going to be exciting."
In the Blue Devils’ locker room, while Wisconsin had yet to tip off against Kentucky, most of their players said it really didn’t matter which opponent they faced. Guard Matt Jones said, "We’re just living in the moment of us." And that, ultimately, is why neither team really cares about what happened in December. It’s all about capturing the national championship now.
"To play on Monday, we’re so excited as a team," Matt Jones said. "We know we have a good chance of winning it all if we just play the way we should. We’re just focused on us."