It’s finally happened.
The 2-seed Wisconsin Badgers have punched their ticket to North Texas for the 2014 Final Four. The Badgers defeated the 1-seed Arizona Wildcats, 64-63 in overtime, last night in one of the more exciting games you will ever see. Bo Ryan had been seeking a berth to the Final Four since he took over as head coach of the Badgers in 2001.
At last, that monkey is off his back.
Ryan is no stranger to the Final Four, though. It’s been a longstanding tradition between him and his father “Butch” to take in the Final Four from the crowd. His father used to coach basketball and Ryan used to often look up to him in the stands while coaching the Badgers. Except during the Final Four, they’d watch those games together. But, this was going to be the first year when Ryan would go to the Final Four alone. His father passed away in August this year. Not only will Ryan be going to the Final Four for the first time without his father; he’ll actually be coaching in it.
Sometimes in life, and in sports, stories come together so perfectly that they seem like a script coming out of a Hollywood basement filled with b-team writers trying to write an impossibly-fitting ending.
This is one of those stories, but this isn’t Hollywood. And this story isn’t over — yet.
After the game Ryan revealed,
“This would have been my dad’s 90th birthday.”
Are you kidding me? Does it get any better than that? Not only is Ryan celebrating his father’s legacy by continuing to coach at a high level, he is honoring his father by coaching in the first Final Four since his passing. Talk about scripted. Is anyone else having hard time believing this story? Clinching his first trip to the Final Four on his recently-passed father’s birthday? It gets better though, here is what Ryan had to say on the court immediately following the game, while barely holding back tears.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough to be there coaching without him. But I can’t imagine him being any happier or my mom who passed away about a year ago,” Ryan told Craig Sager of CBS. “I’m happy. 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, I can’t thank them enough. These guys, a second family you know how it is. But this is for Butch.”
For Butch indeed.
“He [Ryan's Father] was always about the kids that he helped mentor growing up, and that’s why I do it,” Ryan said. “To be able to see the faces on these guys, to see the genuine excitement, I can remember some of the great teams that he had of kids and their first championships and how they acted and just had the joy.”
But it didn’t come without dramatics.
After the back-and-forth heavyweight battle, Traevon Jackson missed a potential game-winning shot. The game went to overtime and it didn’t get any less tense. The final minute was a seesaw of emotions and questionable calls from the refs. But in the end, fate was on the side of the Badgers last night. Arizona’s final attempt to score, and win, fell short and Wisconsin’s bench stormed the court. Game over. Bo and his Badgers are headed to the Final Four
As you can imagine, downtown Madison exploded with excitement. But it was more impressive than you can imagine. Check out this video from State Street (BEWARE contains one segment on NSFW language).
The players went on to cut down the net and celebrate late into the night. But not before offering some good quotes.
“He had a little tear in his eyes…So you know his dad was smiling down on him at that time,” Sam Dekker said.
What a special moment, both for Ryan and for this gritty team that began the year 16-0.
Dekker went on to say, “It was a fight. If I wasn’t wearing my mouth guard, my teeth would have been gone.”
The star of the game was center Frank Kaminsky. He dropped 28 points and secured 11 rebounds, while being utterly impossible for Arizona to guard all game.
Kaminsky said, “It really feels like we won the lottery. If I were to describe it, I would celebrate like that if I won the lottery, but this was 10 times better.”
It does feel good. Damn good. Check out other Badgers’ reactions on Twitter/Instagram. My goosebumps are just starting to go down, how about yours? This game had such a significance beyond just this year and this year’s team, though.
The other special part about this victory is the demon that it exorcises from Ryan’s coaching resume. A black mark removed from his legacy.
Ryan has been known as one of the nation’s top coaches to never reach the Final Four; if not the best. That storyline can be forgotten now. Ryan has lead a team to the Final Four and boasts a 20-12 record in the NCAA Tournament all-time. Impressive.
“That was kind of the knock on him [Not reaching the Final Four]…What can they say now?” Bronson Koenig said.
Koenig sums up the thoughts of all Badgers fans with that question. What can they say now? Hopefully they’ll be able to say that Ryan is a national champion coach, too. Regardless, being only one game away from the championship game is quite a great feeling.
With this win, Ryan has secured his third 30-win season with the Badgers. The 3-time Big Ten Coach of the Year has now been to the Final Four, the Elite Eight (twice), the Sweet Sixteen (six times) and has never missed the Big Dance once. In addition, he has three Big Ten Championships and two Big Ten Tournament championships with the Badgers, too. I guess what I’m trying to illustrate here is how amazing the Bo Ryan Era has been in Madison. Oh, and over the course of his career he’s 704–223 all-time as a head coach.
The man knows how to win. But this win was the best one yet. And he wasn’t shy in letting everyone know that it was for his dad. Ryan spent the night celebrating with his wife and kids, too.
Here is the ending of the game and part of the post-game celebration. How can you not enjoy this video? It even features a cameo by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
In the Final Four, Ryan will still be looking up at his father during the game; but not to the stands. How fitting.
On Wisconsin, all the way to the Final Four!
Thanks to [FoxSports.com] for the quotes.