Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky shoots over Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski. / Richard Mackson, USA TODAY Sports
ANAHEIM, Calif. - As the celebration began, she found her way to the court, and from there into a long embrace with her husband. The entire time, Kelly Ryan couldn't stop talking â?? "We did it! We did it! Finally, we did it!" â?? but Bo Ryan? He didn't say anything.
"I think he was at a loss for words," Kelly Ryan said.
Don't misunderstand. Wisconsin is finally in the Final Four after a 64-63 overtime victory against NCAA West Region top seed seed Arizona. It meant plenty for a coach who, for all his accomplishments, hadn't gotten there in 13 years at Wisconsin.
"That was kind of the knock on him," freshman guard Bronson Koenig said. "What can they say now?"
Start with this: Ryan did it his way. In so many ways, the victory was a triumph for his system. When Nick Johnson's shot missed at the final buzzer â?? or rather, just after the buzzer; it was an instant too late â??an incredibly intense grinder finally ended. For the last 17 minutes of regulation and all five minutes in overtime, neither team held more than a three-point lead. Possessions were precious, and points moreso. It was all so very Wisconsin.
But the Badgers had one very big edge.
"Frank Kaminsky is the reason Wisconsin's in the Final Four," said Arizona coach Sean Miller, and he was simply stating the obvious after the 7-foot junior scored 28 points and pulled down 11 rebounds (seven offensive).
But Miller also was correct on a deeper layer. Like Ryan's teams always have, back to his days coaching Division III ball at Wisconsin-Platteville, the Badgers play fierce defense. Their deliberate offense remains a mesh of cuts and passes and precise angles. It could all be the same stuff from decades ago, or last season.
Except for Kaminsky. His emergence this season â?? and especially in the postseason â?? has injected, if not radical change, at least a few very potent wrinkles into the Badgers' offense.
"This is known as a defensive program that slows ball down on offense," Kaminsky said. "We wanted to put a little of our brand on it. â?¦ I think it's showing with this run we've had in the tournament."
His teammates affectionately call him "Frank the Tank," but Kaminsky's game, as shown Saturday night, is much too sleek for the nickname. Along with post moves, he showcased a dangerous perimeter jumper (three 3-pointers) and spinning drives complete with too many head-fakes and pump-fakes to count.
As the game unfolded, the battle between Kaminsky and Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona's 7-foot sophomore, was intriguing. At halftime, it was essentially a standoff. After that, it was all Kaminsky.
At one point, while they waited for someone to shoot a free throw, Wisconsin sophomore Sam Dekker exchanged a few words with Tarczewski, oddly casual conversation during a lull. Dekker asked: "Isn't it tough to guard Frank?" And Tarczewski replied, as recounted by Dekker: "I've never guarded someone like this. It's just awkward."
"He makes it awkward," Dekker said. "He's head-faking, pump-faking, going in circles."
And when the Badgers' offense runs through him, defenses seem to be running in circles. Kaminsky scored the Badgers' final six points on a layup, a jump shot and a tip-in. Actually, the jump shot probably can't be described. Guarded on the baseline by Tarczewski, he spun one way, then the other, then back again and then heaved the ball toward the rim.
"It looked like he coughed it up," Dekker said, "but that's just Frank getting a weird shot to go up and in."
The nickname fits in one important way: "We've been just jumping on his back and going," Dekker said. "When he gives that confidence to the rest of the group, with his moves and what he can do to stretch the floor, it adds another element to how dangerous we can be."
How dangerous can they be? Wisconsin hadn't been to the Final Four since 2000, under Dick Bennett. Ryan, who won four national championships at Wisconsin-Platteville, took over in 2001. And although he has consistently downplayed the meaning of getting to the Final Four, Ryan opened his postgame news conference by noting that Saturday would have been the 90th birthday of his father, Butch, who died last August.
"I just thought I'd throw that in," Ryan said, and those who have followed their story know father and son had taken in so many Final Fours together, as spectators but never participants. They also understood that, while the celebration swirled on around Ryan, he wasn't satisfied with the accomplishment.
Wisconsin finished second in the Big Ten this season. After starting 16-0 â?? included, a victory over fellow Final Four participant Florida â?? the Badgers inexplicably lost five of six, including three at home in Madison, before rebounding. But with Kaminsky's continued evolution, they're a different team in March.
"We want a national championship now," Kaminsky said. "We have made it to the opportunity to get there, so why not go get it?"
It could have been scripted by Ryan â?? who, by the way, did have something to say during the celebration just after the buzzer. While they were still out on the court, he found Dekker. Player and coach hugged â?? "I was proud of him," Dekker said, "and he was proud of me" â?? and then Ryan spoke.
"We've got more work to do," he told Dekker. "Let's get to Dallas."
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Read the original story: Wisconsin knocks off Arizona, Bo Ryan earns his first Final Four