Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Ending in Heartbreak, Wisconsin Badgers Road to the Final Four was Remarkable

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If you told me in October that this is how the season would end for the Wisconsin Badgers, I would take it in a heart beat and not think twice about it. Wisconsin’s season may have ended in heartbreak (Aaron Harrison broke a lot of hearts in the NCAA Tournament), but their road to the Final Four was great to follow.

Right out of the gates you had a sense that this season could be magical. The Badgers took down the Florida Gators (eventual overall number one seed in the tournament) two games into the season. Frank Kaminsky then set a school-record when he put up 43 points against the University of North Dakota in the fourth game of the season.

What followed would be nothing short of amazing.

Wisconsin started off winning their first 16 games of the season-the best the program has begun a season in school history. They vaulted all the way up to the No. 3 spot in the polls and things were looking bright for Bo Ryan and his team. At the time they were in discussion for a possible one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But then a rough patch–a pothole or two in the road if you will–followed and things started to look a little bleak. The flu bug hit the team hard as they lost five of six games to start the Big Ten schedule with a record of 4-5. Through adversity the Buzzcuts persevered and got through what was, at the time, a low point in the season.

To finish the season, the Badgers rattled off eight wins and nine games before conference play started. Although Wisconsin lost in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, they entered the big dance as one of the hottest teams in college basketball.

Receiving a two seed and playing the opening two rounds in Milwaukee was rewarded to the Badgers. After dismantling American in the second round, the Badgers took down the Oregon Ducks who were also playing their best basketball at the time.

Anaheim, CA and the Sweet Sixteen was in store for the Badgers as they would take on the 1-3-1 zone defense of the Baylor Bears. Wisconsin put on a clinic, cruising to a 69-52 victory and a date with the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight.

The road to the Final Four would have to go through a very good, very talented Wildcats team. Arizona and Wisconsin traded punches as the game went down to the last seconds of overtime, with the Badgers coming away victorious to reach their first Final Four since 2000. It would also be Bo Ryan’s first trip as a head coach, and it was well deserved and long overdue.

On the biggest stage in college basketball, the Badgers were not phased going against the “Fab 5” of the Kentucky Wildcats. After getting punched in the mouth and not backing down, Wisconsin found themselves clinging to a two-point lead in the waning seconds. What followed next would break the hearts of Badger Nation and close the road to the Final Four for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Aaron Harrison hit a clutch (very, very tough) three pointer to put Kentucky up by one with 5.7 seconds left. After a couple timeouts to continue the chess match between Ryan and John Calipari, Traevon Jackson drove the length of the floor and put up a good-looking shot. Unfortunately it would not fall and it was the Wildcats who moved on to face the UConn Huskies in the championship game Monday.

Was it a devastating loss and bitter pill to swallow? Absolutely, but in no means does it diminish what this squad accomplished this past season. Wisconsin’s road to the Final Four was extraordinary to follow and witness. Too bad that road didn’t have a little more pavement added onto it.

Tags: 2014 Final Four Basketball Bo Ryan Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin Badgers

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