We’ll Never Forget These Wisconsin Badgers


A few days have passed since Wisconsin’s pursuit of a national championship fell agonizingly short in Indianapolis, bringing an end to an incredible two-year odyssey, the likes of which have never been seen in program history.

This has given fans the opportunity to reflect upon this team and all the joy that was brought to them by these Badgers over the past two seasons, and it’s become evidently clear (as if it wasn’t already) that this was a truly special group of players and coaches.

The last two years of Badger basketball saw the team reach new heights. Over that time, Wisconsin went 66-12, won a Big Ten regular season and conference title, made two Final Four appearances and had a whole lot of fun along the way.

Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin Badgers /

Wisconsin Badgers

Sure, both magical runs through the NCAA Tournament were peppered with a hint of heartbreak, but they also provided ample moments that fans will be able to look back on with great fondness years from now.

The 2013-14 season saw the Badgers jump out to a school-record 16-0 start and follow a midseason slump with a strong finish to the regular season. Then, in the NCAA Tournament, they delighted a partisan Badger crowd at the BMO Bradley Center with a thrilling comeback win over Oregon in the round of 32, which helped to eventually set the stage for an Elite Eight showdown with the West Region’s No. 1 seed, Arizona.

The Badgers outlasted the Wildcats 64-63 in overtime in an instant classic that made Frank Kaminsky a household name amongst college basketball fans and finally gave Bo Ryan his Final Four trip at the Division I level. Of course, agony would strike for UW in the Final Four against Kentucky, courtesy of Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Josh Gasser in the game’s waning seconds.

But this moment only served as inspiration for Wisconsin, who, save Ben Brust, returned all of its core players for the 2014-15 campaign. Expectations were sky-high for the Badgers heading into the season, yet they managed to meet them (and in some cases, even exceed them) every step along the way.

This Wisconsin team set a school record for wins (36), cruised to the outright regular-season Big Ten title with a record of 16-2 in conference play, used an incredible second-half comeback to defeat Michigan State and win the Big Ten Tournament title and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

But it didn’t end there. The Badgers beat both Oregon and North Carolina in dramatic fashion to set up a highly anticipated rematch with Arizona in the Elite Eight, who they once again took down to advance to another Final Four. This presented them with the ultimate shot at redemption: a clash with the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.

The task was daunting, but they rose to the occasion, bringing Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection to a screeching halt and clinching a berth in the national championship game for the first time since 1941.

Alas, their quest to capture college basketball’s ultimate prize fell just short in a loss to Duke, but that doesn’t diminish the unprecedented success that the Badgers had over these last two seasons. Not only did they elevate the program to new heights, they also completely shifted the national narrative that surrounded Wisconsin basketball.

Prior to the 2013-14 season, the Badgers were widely considered to be a very solid program, but not one that would be a factor late in March. The Wisconsin brand of basketball was anchored by strong defense, but deemed painfully slow and boring on offense.

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After these last two years, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that still associates March Madness disappointment and boring offense with Wisconsin Badgers basketball.

This past season’s team wasn’t just the most efficient offense in the entire country; it was the most efficient offense college basketball has seen since Ken Pomeroy began tracking tempo-free statistics in 2002.

And they did this without changing a damn thing in the way they play offense.

They still played at one of the slowest paces in the nation, but the abundance of talent showed that the sky’s the limit in Bo Ryan’s swing offense with the right personnel. They truly played as a cohesive unit with a willingness to pass up a good shot for a chance at a great one that would make Gregg Popovich grin.

But the guys on this team didn’t just click on the court; they formed an incredible brotherhood away from it as well. These guys weren’t just outstanding basketball players, but also incredible teammates and wonderful people whose lighthearted nature and penchant for having fun perfectly reflected the student body of the university that they represented so well.

Frank Kaminsky went from an unheralded reserve as a sophomore to the national player of the year in the final season of his collegiate career. Sam Dekker, who some fans felt wasn’t living up to his potential, became a March Madness hero during this last NCAA Tournament. Nigel Hayes has been both a force on the court and a media darling thanks to his fantastic personality and sense of humor.

Bronson Koenig stepped up big for the Badgers when Traevon Jackson went down with a broken foot. Jackson himself worked as hard as he could to rehabilitate and made it back in time for the final stretch of his senior season.

Zak Showalter is a boundless ball of energy that only knows how to play in one gear. Duje Dukan overcame a lengthy midseason cold spell and found his shooting stroke from deep just in time for the postseason. “Captain America” Josh Gasser, college basketball’s ultimate glue guy, provided senior leadership, epitomized Badger basketball and was the personification of all those clichés about doing things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Every player contributed one way or another on the court, and their tight bond away from it made this team so easy to root for, but also made their loss to Duke that much more heartbreaking for fans.

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“These guys are my family, and I mean that literally. I don’t mean that hypothetically,” Kaminsky said in the press conference after the national title game, where both he and Gasser tried their best to fight back tears. “I’ve never been closer to a group of guys in my entire life, from the coaching staff on down to every single player on this team. It’s just going to be hard to say goodbye.”

There’s no doubt that every Wisconsin fan shares similar sentiments about the departing players and this team, and saying goodbye to them isn’t easy for anybody. But the pain of the season’s heartbreaking conclusion will fade over time, leaving fans with the countless joyful memories and unforgettable moments that these players brought them.

The iconic “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” quote from Dr. Seuss is used a lot, but it’s perfectly apt for this particular circumstance.

These Badgers brought fans immeasurable joy, both on and off the court.

They made back-to-back Final Fours, won one for the late Butch Ryan, met Aaron Rodgers, made normally dull and dry press conferences into can’t miss television and gave us intrepid student reporter Nigel Burgundy.

They earned the ultimate measure of redemption by beating a Kentucky team that had dispatched all 38 of its previous opponents. They introduced the country to the wonderful world of stenography, expanded our vocabularies and caused their hotel to fill with jubilant Badger fans after advancing to their first national championship game in 74 years.

But more than anything else, they reminded us that student-athletes can perform at an extremely high level and still have a hell of a lot of fun while doing it. They embodied there “Make ‘Em Believe” mantra and left no doubt as to whether or not UW is among the nation’s elite basketball programs by the time they were through.

Yes, it’s true that an unforgettable chapter of Wisconsin basketball has come to a close, and a third straight trip to the Final Four next year would likely require the greatest coaching job in the illustrious career of Bo Ryan, but the Badgers are bringing in a strong recruiting class and the future looks bright.

There’s never been a better time to be a fan of Wisconsin Badgers basketball, and you have these guys to thank for it.