ANAHEIM, Calif. — It took 13 seasons and an extra five minutes, but Wisconsin is taking head coach Bo Ryan to the Final Four.
The Honda Center was the site of a true heavyweight fight between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the West Regional, playing for the right to go to the Final Four.
Wisconsin (29-7) and Arizona (33-5) exchanged haymaker after haymaker in a regional final that couldn’t be decided in regulation.
“It was just a knuckle-on-knuckle fight,” Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said. “If I wasn’t wearing my mouth guard my teeth would have been gone again.”
The bout would be extended by five minutes after junior point guard Traevon Jackson missed a 17-footer in the final seconds of the second half to leave the score tied at 54.
In overtime, forward Frank Kaminsky would not be denied as the 7-foot junior put Wisconsin’s fate on his back, scoring six of the Badgers’ 10 points in the extra period, leading his team to a 64-63 win.
Kaminsky flashes his a one handed ‘W’ to celebrate Wisconsin’s win over Arizona into the Final Four.
Joey Reuteman/The Badger Herald
“Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin’s in the Final Four,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said.
Arizona tried to limit Kaminsky’s production by matching him up with its own 7-footer, Kaleb Tarczewski, but the junior out of Lisle, Ill. took his game to a whole new level connecting on 11 of his 20 shots — three from beyond the arc.
“Frank’s the man. He can score on anyone,” Dekker said. “We run our stuff through him for a reason, because he is so good.”
Kaminsky finished with a game-high 28 points and posted a double-double with 11 rebounds.
“He’s a difficult match-up,” Miller said. “Got to be one of the best offensive players who plays college basketball, for sure.”
It was an ominous start, though, for Wisconsin playing in a hostile crowd for the first time in the tournament as Arizona fans made a large majority of the 17,000-plus that filled the Honda Center.
The ‘Cats daunting defense lived up to the hype to start the game, forcing the Badgers to eat a lot of shot clock and pull the trigger on difficult looks that resulted in a 5 for 18 (27.7 percent) shooting effort through the first 12 minutes of the half.
“Those first ten minutes I was very, very — internally there was a lot of gnashing going on,” Ryan said. “Sometimes you can want it too much for your team.”
Wisconsin was down and needed a wake up call. Coach Ryan obliged, earning a technical foul with 7:59 left in the first half for game misconduct.
“At the time, when coach got the technical, I was kind of mad at him,” Dekker said. “But it kind of woke us up in a sense that said ‘alright calm down, we got the refs’ attention little bit, let’s go out and play.’ It worked for us.”
Wisconsin would respond with an 11-6 run to close out the half and cut Arizona’s lead to three, 28-25, going into halftime.
Despite not attempting a free throw until there was 2:26 left in the half and taking seven fewer shots from the line than Arizona, Wisconsin was able to come within a possession thanks in large part to its rebounding.
The Badgers out-rebounded the Wildcats 22-14 in the first half. Coming into the Elite Eight, Arizona owned the 6th best rebounding margin in the country, grabbing 7.2 more boards per game than its opponent.
“Wisconsin was killing us on the glass in the first half,” Miller said. “It was amazing that we were winning.”
It was a back-and-forth battle in the second half as, for all but 2:12 in the half, it was a one-possession game until the final buzzer sounded in OT.
Wisconsin didn’t own a lead until the 15:12 mark in the second half when freshman guard Bronson Koening nailed a three from the top of the key to give the Badgers a 36-34 edge.
For the rest of the second half, the lead would be exchanged twice and the game tied up four times.
Ben Brust would put Wisconsin ahead in overtime with his first three-pointer of the game and from then on the Badgers would not surrender their lead.
Arizona, down 64-63, owned possession with 11 seconds left in the extra period with a chance to win at the buzzer.
With three seconds to go, Nick Johnson drove to the basket and was called for a charge to give Wisconsin possession.
On the inbounds play, Gasser looked to get the ball in to Jackson. Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a play on the ball and it was tipped out of bounds.
The referees initially signaled Wisconsin possession, but went to confirm the call with instant replay and took several minutes to make a decision.
Ryan didn’t bother wondering what the refs would call, he was preparing his team to seal the game on the defensive end.
“If it’s going to be that long, we’re not getting the ball,” coach Ryan said. “But as long as it took them, we said okay. If it’s their ball, here’s what we’re going to do…mainly we spent most of it knowing that it wasn’t going to be our ball.”
The ball was awarded to the Wildcats and the No. 1 seed would have one more chance to leave California with a win.
The ball was inbounded to T.J. McConnell, who was 2 of 9 from the floor to that point. Jackson guarded McConnell who used a screen to work across the key and get a clean look at the rim. But the second team-All Pac-12 selection didn’t get the shot off in time and the Wisconsin players ran to celebrate with their teammates, knowing they had just punched its ticket to Dallas.
The Final Four berth marks the first for Wisconsin since 2000 and the first in the 13-year tenure of Ryan.
On what would have been his father, Butch’s, 90th birthday, Ryan put the finishing touches on his already sparkling coaching resume.
“He wanted this so bad for us and we wanted to get this for him,” Dekker said. “He said, ‘just so you guys know, this would have been my dad’s 90th birthday.’ And he had a little tear in his eye, so you know his dad was smiling down on him at that time.”
The Badgers will now head to Dallas where it will take on the Midwest Regional Champion Kentucky Saturday at Dallas Cowboy’s Stadium.
And though Wisconsin has been striving to break the Elite Eight ceiling and advance to the Final Four, that doesn’t mean it is at all ready to stop wanting more.
“We’ve got 40 more minutes,” Kaminsky said. “We want a national championship now.”