Badgers ready for Kentucky's Final Four challenge
ANAHEIM, Calif.—Surrounded by reporters and TV cameras, Sam Dekker reclined in the noisy Wisconsin locker room and tried to capture the difficulty of UW’s latest victory, arguably its most memorable of the season.
“That was the toughest test we’ve had all year, the toughest fight we’ve had,” Dekker said after UW’s 64-63 overtime victory over No. 1-seeded Arizona in the West Regional title game Saturday night in the Honda Center. It was blow after blow.
“We were taking them. They were taking them. We were responding and they were responding.
“It was back and forth.”
When Nick Johnson failed to get off a shot before the final buzzer, No 2-seeded UW (30-7) was headed to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
UW (30-7) now knows it plays at 7:49 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, against Kentucky (28-10), the No. 8-seeded team in the Midwest.
The Wildcats, who ousted previously unbeaten Wichita State in the third round and eliminated 2013 champion Louisville in the Sweet 16, handed No. 2-seeded Michigan a 75-72 loss Sunday.
UW and Kentucky last met in the 2003 Sweet 16 in Minneapolis. The top-seeded Wildcats got 28 points from Marquis Estill in a 63-57 victory over UW.
“Unbelievable gritty effort,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said after the victory over Arizona. “We beat a heck of a team.
“For a team that has had to mature a lot defensively over the year and maybe hasn’t in some instances been up to par, how about a championship game coming down to having to get a stop with 2.3 seconds to go?”
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who was gracious in defeat, credited UW’s defense.
“Wisconsin is one heck of a defensive team,” he said. “It’s not like they’re going to screw it up.
“They’re going to make you make a shot over them. Nick tried to make a play as best he could, and it didn’t work out.”
Josh Gasser chased Johnson around a double screen off the inbound pass. Traevon Jackson switched out on Johnson as he dribbled from right to left and Frank Kaminsky was waiting in the lane.
Jackson made Johnson take one too many dribbles.
The UW players on the court—Jackson, Kaminsky, Dekker, Gasser and Ben Brust—sprinted toward their teammates on the UW bench.
Gard jumped on UW coach Bo Ryan, who thrust his arms into the air before being enveloped by Dekker and Gasser.
Shortly after the final buzzer, Ryan was interviewed by Craig Sager of TBS.
Fans could see the mix of joy and sadness in the eyes of Ryan, who lost his mother, Louise, on Dec. 27, 2012, and his father, Butch, on Aug. 30.
Saturday would have been the 90th birthday for Butch Ryan, who attended the Final Four with his son for more than three decades.
“I tell you, it’s going to be tough,” Bo Ryan told Sager. “It’s going to be tough to be there coaching without him.
“But I can’t imagine him being any happier, or my mom. I’m happy that I’ve been able to be on the sideline and do this thing called coaching because my parents gave me the opportunity to pursue it.
“My wife, my kids, can’t thank them enough. And these guys (players), second family.
“But this one is for Butch.”