Bo Ryan has been coaching basketball at Wisconsin for a long time, but there was still one thing left on his to-do list: make a Final Four.
The Badgers punched their ticket to North Texas and college basketball’s ultimate quartet with a win over Arizona in an overtime classic Saturday night in Anaheim. Thanks to what many analysts are calling Ryan’s best team ever, Wisconsin is one of four teams left standing in this NCAA tournament. The head coach was quick to point out that it was the players who deserve the credit. Though many would agree that what he’s done over the years in Madison is pretty darn impressive.
“I'm extremely proud,” Ryan said after the game Saturday. “It's always about the players and what they went through to get to this point and to be able to feel the way they do now. We hope it continues, but we also know how life can be.”
The game that got these Badgers to this point was a thriller, headlined by a massive performance from center Frank Kaminsky. The seven-footer has been putting up huge games all year — remember that 43-point night against North Dakota back in November? — but none came on a bigger stage than his 28-point, 11-rebound exhibition that got Wisconsin to its first Final Four since 2000.
“This is like nothing else I've ever felt before,” Kaminsky said. “We've all played basketball our whole lives, and we've all dreamed of going to the Final Four. To actually accomplish that is something I can't put into words. But we all know we still have a lot of basketball left. We've got 40 more minutes. We're going to enjoy this now, but this is business. We want a national championship now. We have made it to the opportunity to get there, so why not go get it.”
And that’s perhaps the bottom line when it comes to these Badgers. Yes, Ryan’s first trip to college basketball’s pinnacle is worth celebrating, but the excitement shouldn’t stop there. Wisconsin is certainly a team that can win this whole thing, only two wins separate them from a national championship. The Badgers are happy to be in the Final Four, but they’re much more than just happy to be here.
“I really enjoyed coming back from Milwaukee and putting on my jersey for practice Monday, and I'm very proud to say I can do that again,” Wisconsin senior Ben Brust said. “I think we've taken this whole process as two‑game tournaments. We've won two tournaments, now we've got to win the next tournament.”
After Sunday, Wisconsin now knows its opponent. The Kentucky Wildcats, the preseason No. 1 team in the country, are playing like that number, not the No. 8 in front of their name on the bracket. They disposed of Wisconsin’s Big Ten brother, Michigan, in another sensational Elite Eight showdown, punching their Final Four ticket with a game-winning NBA-range 3-pointer from Aaron Harrison with two seconds left.
Kentucky, with its stable of top freshmen, has all of a sudden morphed from SEC disappointment to national championship favorite.
But Wisconsin? The team that’s knocked off three of the four No. 1 seeds in this tournament this season? Scared? Think again.
“We don't really care what other people necessarily think of us. Our record, our wins I guess speaks for itself,” Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said. “We've gone in and won in tough environments and played great competition all year long and done pretty well. So what other people think doesn't really matter. We know we've got something special inside this locker room, and we'll try to take advantage of it.”