Wisconsin's win to hand Kentucky 1st loss draws semi's biggest TV audience in 19 years

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INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin's win over previously undefeated Kentucky drew the most viewers for an NCAA semifinal in 19 years.

The Badgers' 71-64 victory Saturday night averaged 22.6 million viewers across TBS, TNT and truTV, according to Turner Sports and CBS. That's up 39 percent from last season's matchup of the same teams.

It was the largest audience for a semi since the Wildcats beat UMass in 1996 in what was widely viewed as a matchup of the country's top two teams.

The two games Saturday averaged 18.9 million viewers, also the best since 1996 and up 35 percent from a year ago. Duke's 81-61 win over Michigan State averaged 15.3 million, the highest for the early game since Illinois-Louisville in 2005 and a 31 percent increase from last season's UConn-Florida matchup.

Viewership has been strong all tournament, with a string of upsets and close games the first Thursday building momentum and Kentucky's pursuit of perfection piquing fans' interest. The overall average of 10.8 million viewers with one game remaining is the most in 22 years and up 6 percent from 2014.

A championship game between Kentucky and Duke on Monday on CBS would have attracted a massive audience, though the matchup of the Blue Devils and Badgers will likely still do well.

The main broadcasts Saturday aired on TBS, with "homer" coverage for the teams on TNT and truTV. When the Final Four was televised on cable for the first time last year, viewership for the semis on TBS was down from the games on CBS the previous season.

As has occurred with other sports whose biggest games migrated to cable, Saturday's ratings showed that the most attractive matchups can still draw big audiences even with the networks available in fewer homes.

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