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Bo knows Finals Fours: Badgers' Ryan has been here before

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
April 4, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas--The final buzzer sounded in the Honda Center, and the celebration commenced near the Wisconsin bench.

Players hugged and screamed.

Coaches pumped fists and beamed.

UW associate head coach Greg Gard grabbed head coach Bo Ryan from behind to celebrate the Badgers' first trip to the NCAA Final Four under Ryan and the program's first since 2000.

Ryan's initial thought?

He had to make sure he walked over to shake the hand of Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team had just fallen to UW in overtime, 64-63.

“I grabbed him right after the horn went off and he did the same thing in 1995,” Gard explained.

Ryan was the head coach at UW-Platteville when the Pioneers defeated Steve Alford's Manchester (Ind.) team, 69-55, to win the Division III national title. The title was the second of four for Ryan at UW-Platteville.

“I grabbed him and tried to bounce up and down with him,” said Gard, an assistant at UW-Platteville from 1993-'99

Ryan told Gard he had to make sure he shook Alford's hand first.

“He understands the big picture,” Gard said.

In short, although Ryan is leading UW (30-7) to the Final Four for the first time, he understands the pressure of the environment the Badgers will enter when they face Kentucky (28-10) at 7:49 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium.

“He has only won 704 games, right?” Gard replied when asked about Ryan's cool demeanor after the victory over Arizona. “So he has done it a little bit — four national championships. I'm telling you, winning the Division III national championship, you talk about euphoria.”

Although the 66-year-old Ryan will be coaching in his first Division I Final Four, this isn't his first big rodeo.

He led the Pioneers to Division III titles in 1991, '95, '98 and '99. UW-Platteville's only Final Four loss under Ryan came in 1992. The Pioneers lost to Rochester (N.Y.), 61-48, but defeated Jersey City State in the third-place game, 72-61.

His record at the DIII Final Four: 9-1.

So Ryan had an interesting response this week when asked if perhaps he had reached out to other coaches who had been to the Final Four for advice on preparing his team.

Wrong question.

“I've had coaches come to me for advice because I was in five of these,” he said. “Whether it's Division III or Division I, you're in five national tournaments. You're trying to win the national championship. I've had people ask me what it was like and for advice.”

Ryan views the Final Four as the third in a series of two-game tournaments.

UW defeated American University and Oregon in Milwaukee to reach the Sweet 16. The Badgers then dispatched Baylor and Arizona to win the West Regional.

Now the four teams left are UW, Kentucky, Florida (36-2) and Connecticut (30-8). The latter two will meet at 5:09 p.m. Saturday in the first national semifinal.

“This is a two-game tournament,” Ryan reiterated. “Coaches that are going to go out and ask what question? Because it's the final two games it's going to be different?

“Heck, no. You've got to win the 40 to get to 40. I don't mean North Dallas Forty.”

Ryan meant winning the next 40 minutes. Win the first 40 and you get another 40.

“So what would be different?” he asked. “What would you ask?”

One question posed to Ryan's players:

How have you handled the increased pressure as each round has gone on?

Redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser insisted the players have not noticed any increase in pressure or tension or nerves.

“Once the game starts, all the media, all the nonsense throughout the week, it's kind of thrown out the window,” he said. “So it's not any more pressure. It's still a 40-minute game. It's still a 10-foot hoop.

“Everything's the same. I think that stems from our coach. Coach Ryan prepares us the same for any game. It doesn't matter if it's now in April or it's back in November.”



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