Wisconsin looks to be perfect spoiler against Kentucky 

click to enlarge Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is familiar with taking an undefeated team into the national semifinals — he did so twice at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. - DARRON CUMMINGS/AP
  • Darron Cummings/AP
  • Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is familiar with taking an undefeated team into the national semifinals — he did so twice at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville.

Second chances don't come often in sports, especially intercollegiate sports, especially in basketball, where the best players barely stay around for one year, never mind two or three. Or four.

The kids at Wisconsin understand that. The coach at Wisconsin understands that.

A year ago, Wisconsin had Kentucky, was rolling along, was ahead at the half of their Final Four semifinal, ahead by two with six seconds to play. But Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds for a 74-73 win. Kentucky went to the championship game. Wisconsin went back to school.

Not many outside the two states remember that game. Wisconsin won't forget it, though. Badgers stars Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker could have gone pro after the game. Instead they went for retribution. And, as if scripted, the opportunity is there.

Kaminsky and Dekker not only are back, but they get to face Kentucky once again. This time it's a Kentucky team of history, a 38-0 record. Perfection. So far.

Wisconsin coach Francis "Bo" Ryan can tell us all about perfection. He had two unbeaten seasons at another school at another level, Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. He's 67, been there and done that — other than win the NCAA championship.

"They're outstanding," Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Wisconsin and their head coach. "We know that. Bo has done what he's done with every team. He's just made them a cohesive and defensive unit."

Wisconsin will have to be all of that — and more — against one of the deepest college teams in recent memory. Led by Karl-Anthony Towns and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, Kentucky has eight rotation players who average between 5.6 and 11.0 points per game. The Wildcats had three games decided by six or fewer points, but their average margin of victory was more than 21 per game.

Ryan's teams pester and hassle their opponents. They won't allow the good shot and rarely take the bad one. The reputation is for extend-the-clock slowdown basketball, but Kaminsky, a 7-footer who is the consensus national Player of the Year, and Dekker, a 6-9 gunner, can get points. Or isn't an 85-78 win over Arizona in the regional final good enough for you? It was good enough for Ryan and Wisconsin.

Ryan knows the drill. Talk up the opposition. Tell a few jokes. Show the world a guy approaching 70 can identify with players a half a century younger.

While his team was discussing video game skills, Ryan conveniently dropped in the fact back in his schoolboy days near Philadelphia, he was a pinball champion. Out of your element? Google The Who singing the praises of the audibly and visibly challenged kid who sure plays a mean pinball.

Ryan, in the business since 1972, beginning at a junior high, sure coaches a mean basketball game. He's won more than 700 games. It's the next game that figures to be the biggest of his career, however.

"I think it's easier for [Kentucky] to look at us than it is for us to look at them," Ryan insisted. "They're different from last year. They're undefeated for a reason. In practices, you have enough good players going against each other, so you're actually developing the skills of your players while the season's going."

Wisconsin has an older player in Kaminsky, a senior.

"We know how good he is," Calipari said after a team workout. "I just saw him out in the hallway. I said, 'Look, I'm so tired of looking at your tape right now.' I said to Bo — we were laughing — how much better he's gotten in a two-year period is almost scary.

"He and Dekker both. They both have a swagger about them. They both have a high belief in their team. They know how they're going to play. 'This is who we are.'"

That's who Wisconsin is — Kaminsky, nicknamed "Frank the Tank," Dekker and Ryan. Are they enough to beat Kentucky? Just might be.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

About The Author

Art Spander

Art Spander

Bio:
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Videos

Most Popular Stories

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation