80 More Minutes

Can Sam Dekker and company deliver 80 more minutes for the Badger faithful?

The question, “Did you ever think the Badger Men’s basketball team would go to back-to-back Final Four’s?” The answers, from almost everyone asked, are almost always in the form of a one word response. From Rob Rainey, Bo Ryan’s high school coach and mentor, to Greg Gard, assistant coach, to the voice of the Badgers, Matt LePay, they’re all too similar; “Surreal”, “Unbelievable”, “Crazy”, “Historic”.

“Not in my lifetime” has been my standard response. “Never in my wildest dreams” is right up there. When Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske, Mark Vershaw, Roy Boone, Jon Bryant, Duany Duany, Charlie Wills and all the other no names under the direction of Dick Bennett, stole the fourth spot in the 2000 Final Four, I had the same feeling. Seeing Bennett standing at center court of the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis on the sports pages of the Milwaukee Journal that week verified it, but I still had a hard time believing it. That team was a classic Cinderella squad, getting hot at the right time, catching a few breaks along the way, and playing a tenacious, Badger animal defense that most teams they encountered along the way had never experienced, until, unfortunately, they ran into the old Michigan State Spartans again in the semi-final. Wisconsin finished the season with a record of 22-14, by the way.

North Carolina and Florida joined the Badgers that year, with Mateen Cleaves and company walking off with the trophy after bludgeoning Florida, 89-71. Had Wisconsin drawn either the Gators or the Tar Heels that year, I firmly believe the ugly, 53-41, semi-final wrestling match might have been played out on Monday night under an even bigger spotlight. Bennett retired unexpectedly the following season, however, and assistant Brad Soderburg was handed the keys to the blossoming program, but an early round exit to Georgia State in the NCAA the following year opened the door for that guy from Platteville, via UWM, the real Mr. Wisconsin, Bo Ryan. Fourteen consecutive NCAA appearances later, Wisconsin has stunned us all again, this time with back-to-back appearances on the big stage.

Last year’s dramatic overtime victory over Arizona in the Elite Eight again elicited dumbfounded responses again from die hard Badger fans and alumni, but a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the semi-final game erased any hopes of an unthinkable National Championship, instead, UCONN walked away with the hardware with a 60-54 win over the Wildcats.

Now, one year later, after having won the Big Ten regular season championship, securing the Big Ten Tournament title in dramatic fashion, and dialing up four come-from-behind victories to date in this NCAA Tournament on their journey to Indianapolis, these 2014-15 Badgers, 35-3, the greatest team in program history, are poised to make even more history.

One small, but in reality, tall problem, however, stands in the way. It just happens to be a 38-0 Kentucky team that has a history making idea all their own that might prevent the Badgers from accomplishing the last of their goals this season, the 2015 NCAA Championship.

Now, all the Badger basketball fanatics are asking from red-hot Sam Dekker, AP Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, 15 year veteran Josh Gasser, future All-American Bronson Koenig and the the Chocolate Tornado, Nigel Hayes, is a mere 80 more minutes of quality basketball. Regardless of whether it’s MSU or Duke on Monday night that becomes their final opponent, odds are that if the Badgers get by Kentucky tomorrow, there’ll be another, different trophy residing in the halls of the Kohl Center on display Tuesday. Just 80 more minutes, everybody, that’s all. On Wisconsin!

And For What

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