Part of Bo Ryan’s game plan against Baylor has already fallen apart.
“Well, depending on what uniforms Baylor is going to have on,” Ryan explained at a Monday press conference. “I told Nigel (Hayes), 'I forgot the sunglasses.' He looked at me and said, ‘What are you talking about, coach?’ I said, ‘I had a box of sunglasses we were going to wear for the game in case they had those highlighted uniforms.’ He got it. He chuckled.”
Sunglasses or no, the Badgers head to the Sweet Sixteen — their second in three years — without one big luxury: home-court advantage. Wisconsin’s first two games were virtually home games, coming at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. A 40-point blowout of American and a comeback win against Oregon might have gone much differently had the place not been packed with Badger backers.
Now it’s on to Anaheim, far away from the comforts of home. But the Badgers are confident that crowd support won’t be an issue in California.
"Wisconsin fans are pretty passionate about what they do,” Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said. “Football, our fans follow them everywhere. Packers fans follow them everywhere, even Brewers. When you have traditions like that and fans like that, so loyal to their teams, you can expect a good drawing. I fully expect a pretty good crowd out there in Anaheim and excited to play in front of them. It's cool to have that many fans, but come this time, it's still a neutral court. Hoop is 10 feet tall. Still basketball being played. So we've just got to focus on playing our style of basketball and getting it done.”
What will undoubtedly provide a challenge, though, are the red-hot Baylor Bears. They’re fresh off a pair of dominant wins in their first two tournament games, first easily dispatching of Nebraska before scorching Creighton. A trio of Bears have scored in double figures in each of those games, but it’s been back-to-back rebounding blowouts that have been the key in the big wins. Baylor combined to out-rebound Nebraska and Creighton 69-47.
That makes the key matchup the one between this game’s two seven-footers. Baylor has Isaiah Austin, who’s totaled 30 points and 11 rebounds in the Bears’ two games. Wisconsin has Frank Kaminsky, who’s gone for 27 and nine. Plus, Baylor has plenty more size, with three players in addition to Austin who stand 6-foot-9 or taller.
"Yeah, Isaiah Austin has been blocking shots his whole life. He's always been the tallest kid on the court with the longest arms,” Dekker said. “So he's a good shot blocker. He's going to go after it. Frank is one of the best pump-faking, footwork, finesse players I think I've ever played with, easily. When you can use those moves in there and just kind of confuse some guys with some moves that are pretty unorthodox, I think Frank can use that to his advantage. For myself, I've got to still work on pump faking and taking my time in the post. If we can do that and we can maybe try to get them in foul trouble or something, that will definitely work in our favor.”
Of course, the Badgers bring plenty of their own punch to this matchup. They have three averaging double figures in the tournament, and they’ve won a pair of rebounding battles, too. Traevon Jackson is having a great Dance so far. Baylor is hot, but then again so is Wisconsin. Baylor’s good. But this is the same Wisconsin team that’s played — and defeated — plenty of good teams: Florida, Virginia, Saint Louis, Michigan State, Michigan.
The Badgers have their sights set on big things, net-cuttingly big things. But their focus is squarely on Baylor. They’re not thinking about a potential Elite Eight matchup the winner of Arizona and San Diego State. It’s worked for them all year, so why stop now?
"Throughout the course of the season, with the exhibition games to now, we've been able to see so many different types of situations that can prepare us for what we're about to see in this game with different teams, different styles of play,” Kaminsky said. “So we'll be ready for whatever they throw at us, and hopefully we'll come out on top.”