It was an Elite Eight battle fought so hard, it shook the ground beneath the court.
Ok, so maybe the ground was already shaking, and actually had been shaking for about 24 hours prior to the time that Wisconsin and Arizona took the Honda Center floor in last year’s NCAA West Region Final. But it was a memorable fight. It was Frank Kaminsky’s coming out party, and the final bust of the bracket when Kaminsky and the Badgers knocked off Arizona.
Saturday afternoon, the two teams will battle once again in the an anticipated Elite Eight rematch. And yet again, they will play in the same region, just up the freeway at the Staples Center. It all seems very familiar, but Arizona is hoping the result isn’t.
"Even though last year our loss to them was devastating for all of us on the team, it kind of provides a level of familiarity with how they play," said Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski. "They’re a very similar team to the one they had last year. So our game plan might be a little bit different this year."
But the Badgers insist that they’re not as similar as the Wildcats would like to remember. And they know that Arizona is much different with Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley, who sat out the game last season.
"Looking at Stanley and Brandon Ashley, they’re both great players," Kaminsky said. "We know about Stanley. He’s one of the most talked about freshmen in the country, and for good reason. He’s a very good player. Brandon Ashley unfortunately didn’t play last year, but he adds another dimension to their team with size and athleticism."
The contrasts on the court are as numerous as they are off, because these two teams seem to be polar opposites when it comes to personality.
The Wildcats have the history and the tradition. They’re professional and buttoned up, they’ve been here before and they expect more.
The Badgers, on the hand, spend their off-days racing go-carts and seeing private movie screenings. Wisconsin spends most of their off-day media session joking with one another on the dais, always trying — and many times succeeding — to goad their ultra-serious coach, Bo Ryan, into laughing, and that’s when Nigel Hayes isn’t trolling the stenographer with words like "cattywampus" just got get a few laughs.
On this particular off-day, the Vinny Chase-obsessed team was counting down the hours until they could go see a private screening of the new "Entourage" movie.
But it’s what works for the Badgers, and it’s these antics and events that bring them closer together.
"We have guys who understand the position we’re in and what we need to accomplish," Kaminsky said. "It’s not hard to flip the switch to not so serious to very serious really quickly."
The memories of last season’s game between these two opponents vary, but are all vivid.
Some remember the earthquakes. One hit just about 10 miles away from the Honda Center the night prior to the game, and it was the first one that most of the Badgers had ever felt. When an errant fire alarm went off during Wisconsin’s postgame celebration, a player half-jokingly yelled, "Another earthquake! Evacuate!" He quickly learned that evacuation was not, in fact, the correct procedure.
"I actually enjoyed it though," Hayes said. "It was my first earthquake. Good thing it wasn’t a bad one, it was just a little tremor, but it was a good time."
"I remember us winning and going to the Final Four," Kaminsky said.
"We watched them go to a Final Four and lose at the buzzer to Kentucky," said Arizona guard T.J. McConnell. "We thought that should have been us."
At this point in the postseason, Wisconsin knows exactly what it takes and the Wildcats think they have it figured out too. History may well repeat itself, but even if it doesn’t, expect a competition so fierce that the proverbial college basketball ground shakes once again.
"It’s going to be the same type of battle, the same type of grit that’s going to be needed," said Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. "Obviously, they want to make a Final Four and so do we. And we’re going take a lot of pride in our game and go out there and try to get a big win."