MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s basketball players took their place on a podium one by one to signify the start of the Badgers’ season-ending banquet Tuesday night in the Kohl Center. They nearly made it to their seats unscathed, too.
While the seniors were being announced, forward Mike Bruesewitz briefly tripped on a step just before reaching the podium.
“We don’t want any injuries here,” said Matt Lepay, the Badgers’ long-time radio broadcaster and emcee for the evening.
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And perhaps that moment, which drew laughter from a small gathering of boosters, fans and family members, was a fitting capper on a season that featured so much adversity.
Bruesewitz missed time early in the season after suffering a lacerated leg. He then sat out two games because of a concussion. Point guard Josh Gasser tore his ACL on Oct. 27 and missed the entire season, forcing teammates Traevon Jackson and George Marshall to undertake an even bigger role on the team.
Yet through it all, Wisconsin still managed to produce a 23-12 season and reach the NCAA tournament for the 15th consecutive time — just a couple of achievements that were noted during a light-hearted banquet, which lasted roughly an hour.
Among the other accomplishments highlighted: Badgers coach Bo Ryan being named Big Ten Coach of the Year for a third time, center Jared Berggren breaking the all-time and single-season school blocks record, forward Ryan Evans playing in more games than any UW player in history, Wisconsin beating Indiana for a 12th consecutive time and the Badgers beating a team that appeared in the national championship (Michigan) twice in one year for the first time in program history.
During the season, Wisconsin led the Big Ten in scoring defense (55.9 points per game) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (.289). The Badgers also finished in the top four of the conference for the 12th time in Ryan’s 12 seasons in charge of the program.
“This team never doubted itself and once again found itself in the mix in the Big Ten conference, and it did so primarily by doing a couple of things that Wisconsin basketball teams have become very well known for, and especially so under coach Ryan,” Lepay said. “By playing tough defense and by protecting the basketball. By doing that, at worst this team had a chance to win every game. And at best, it could beat anybody in America. Just ask Indiana and just ask Michigan how good these guys were.”
The evening also featured a talk from Ryan, who poked fun at the idea his team was often called not athletic by pundits nationwide.
“This group came together more so than any team,” Ryan said. “This is my 41st year of coaching — 29 years being a head coach in college. But I’ve never been around a group of guys that fought through so many things and did it with so little talent.”
Ryan’s comment, of course, was followed by laughter from the crowd.
“Now see, they can laugh at that because they know what they say about our players sometimes,” Ryan continued. “It’s like, ‘Well that guy can’t jump. That guy’s not that tall or that guy’s not that big or that guy’s not that fast.’ Wait a minute. I look at these guys. They look pretty good to me. They work hard. They’re smart. They have talent. And each one of them has it in different ways. If we could ever put all those talents in one player, then we’d really have a player. But this is a great bunch of guys. And the record speaks for itself.”
Ryan also touched on the difficult schedule Wisconsin will play next season, including home games against Florida and Marquette and a Thanksgiving trip to play in the Cancun Challenge. That tournament features West Virginia and Saint Louis. Ryan also mentioned the Badgers would be playing in a neutral site game but stopped short of divulging the opponent because the schedule hasn’t been announced.
“I’d better stop there then,” he said. “But it’ll be another challenging schedule.”
The event closed with a video highlights package of the season on the jumbotron.