ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bo Ryan finally gets his shining moment.
The heralded coach that has long been lauded as one of the top basketball minds in the game had never led a team to the Final Four. It was the one resume item missing from an otherwise illustrious career.
That all changed Saturday night in Anaheim when Ryan, on what would have been his basketball coach father’s 90th birthday, led the No. 2-seeded Badgers to a 64-63 overtime win over No. 1 seed Arizona in the West Regional Elite Eight game.
The Badgers will dance right on into the Final Four for the first time since 2000 and for the first time under Ryan.
"It should always be about the players, but I’m going to get one comment in: Today would have been my dad’s 90th birthday," Ryan said. "I’m extremely proud. It’s always about the players and what they went through to get to this point and to be able to feel the way they do now."
His players put on an incredible show.
When it seemed as though the Badgers were in complete control, the Wildcats would come back with a tip-in dunk or three from a shooter than had been cold all night. It was an all-out battle in every grueling sense of the word.
Arizona pressed and Wisconsin responded. Then Arizona made stops and Wisconsin responded. Its usual response was by center Frank Kaminsky who turned in a 28-point, 11-rebound performance and held Arizona big man Kaleb Tarczewski to just 12 points and four rebounds.
It was the performance of a lifetime from an admittedly goofy white kid who only came into his own this season.
"He’s growing into his body mentally, physically and socially," Ryan said. "They tell me he’s funnier than he used to be… But he’s matured in every aspect because he’s worked hard."
"Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin is in the Final Four," said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. "Obviously, it was almost as if he had a big night and we tried to shut everybody else down. That’s really to what we wanted to do but we could not overcome the 28 points he gave us."
They nearly did shut everyone down except for Traevon Jackson. But they Badgers distributed the ball exceptionally well and their resiliency showed.
It’s difficult to even describe the intensity of the final minutes of the game. The overtime period began and each team matched each other punch for punch. The Wildcats were especially active and aggressive in the paint. Aaron Gordon would let no one around the basket and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came flying in from out of nowhere to tip in a missed jumper.
The ground literally shook underneath the Honda Center and it was difficult to determine whether it was the crowd or an aftershock stemming from Friday night’s earthquake.
"They play so hard, they’ve got a well-coached team and they’re disciplined," Hollis-Jefferson said. "And you want to win so much that will kicks in."
Controversial calls aside, it was Wisconsin’s will that exerted itself. The Badgers finally gave their head coach the missing jewel to his crown.
"It’s huge. That’s kind of what the knock was on coach Ryan was that he didn’t have a Final Four appearance," said Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan. "He was happy, but at the end of the day we said we still have one more left, another 40 minutes to play."
Wisconsin will face the winner of the Midwest bracket, either No. 2 seed Michigan or No. 8 seed Kentucky, in Arlington, Texas, next week.
"We hope it continues," Ryan said. "But we know how life can be."