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Lucas: Badgers refuse to take eyes off (tall) task at hand

Mike Lucas
UWBadgers.com Insider
More Mike Lucas
Varsity Magazine

March 29, 2014


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes refused to allow himself to anticipate something momentous, something that would make the earth move, something like a Final Four appearance or the earthquake that shook this region Friday night.

Nobody was displaced from their rooms in the team hotel and security twice reassured guests on the intercom that there was no structural damage from the 5.1-magnitude earthquake that struck near La Habra shortly after 9 p.m. Pacific.

The Badgers, of course, are still more focused on Arizona’s 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski and his gifted teammates than the earthquake’s epicenter, which was about 10 miles north of Disneyland. They’re more into KenPom.com than the U.S Geological Survey.

With a victory Saturday over the No. 1-seeded Wildcats at the Honda Center, the Badgers could send shockwaves throughout Wisconsin by earning a trip to Texas and the Final Four, the school’s first since the pioneering 2000 team.

Hayes, though, is tapping the brakes on any such thoughts.

“I feel like it’s a trap,” he warned. “The Elite Eight game could be a trap if you think like that, if you overlook an opponent, especially a good opponent like Arizona. If we look ahead, we may end up losing and not get there.”

Hayes’ wisdom belies his age. But he has good mentors, like senior Ben Brust.

“It would definitely be a very special achievement and I’d be honored to be a part of it,” Brust said of the Final Four. “But, in order to do that, we can’t be looking ahead. We’ve got to stay focused on what’s at task and, that is, Arizona is a great team.

“Coach,” Brust said of Bo Ryan, “has been doing the same thing we’ve been doing all year, which is getting us prepared -- he’s given us the tools to be successful. Now it’s our job to go out there and get the job done.”

Junior guard Josh Gasser provided a scouting report upon request.

“We’ve got bigs who can score, we’ve got perimeter guys that can score and we’ve always been known as a pretty good defensive team,” he said. “That’s what has made us dangerous thus far. We’re very versatile. We move the ball. We’re unselfish.”

That, he concluded, is the make-up of a close-knit team gunning for its 30th win. The players do a good job of playing off each other, too. Brust, Gasser, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky shared the stage with Ryan during Friday’s group presser.

“I feel like it's a trap,” Hayes warned. “The Elite Eight game could be a trap if
you think like that,
if you overlook an opponent, especially
a good opponent like Arizona.”

The No. 1 theme question was about Ryan’s roots in Chester, Pa., since Arizona freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is also from the small community just outside of Philly. Ryan and Hollis-Jefferson had met before at the Chester’s Boys & Girls Club.

Once in Anaheim, Hollis-Jefferson didn’t hesitate to take advantage of a photo op with Ryan, one that he posted on his Facebook page. Both talked about the toughness that it took to grow up in Chester, which led to some feedback from Ryan’s players.

“He always talks about the tough streets of Chester,” Gasser said. “I can relate being from Port Washington, Wisconsin. It’s very similar.”

Brust brought down the house when he said, “I’ve got a golf course in my backyard, so he’s got me beat.”

Kaminsky then got into the act by noting, “Sometimes they call my hometown of Woodridge, Hoodridge, if that means anything.”

It does. It means these news conferences on the eve of such big games should still be taken at face value, smiley happy faces. There was another line of questioning, a word association game that asked, “What are two words to describe what you see in Arizona?”

Kaminsky: “Athletic.”

Jackson: “They’re tough.”

Gasser: “Solid.”

Dekker: “Extremely talented.”

Brust: “Good team.”

It didn’t stop there. The follow-up was along the lines of, “If the same question was asked to the Arizona starting five about how they would describe Wisconsin, what one or two words would you want them to answer with?”

Brust: “Resilient.”

Dekker: “Disciplined.”

Gasser: “Unselfish.”

Jackson: “Tough.”

Kaminsky: “White guys.”

Ryan: “Not one of our guys said athletic. Did you notice that?”

Everyone did, and moved on. The Q&A for Arizona coach Sean Miller and his players was much more sedate and standard. There were a couple of notable highlights.

Miller on Jackson: “He’s kind of Wisconsin’s heart and soul. He makes big shots. Any player that you start saying makes big shots, I think it says a lot about his own personal confidence. He’s a physical, strong guy.”

Interjected Arizona guard Nick Johnson, “(He) likes to play bully ball a little bit.”

More Miller on Jackson: “He’s kind of that prototypical Wisconsin point guard that wasn’t as highly recruited but develops each year that they’re in the system. They have a way of really growing under Coach Ryan’s leadership.”

Miller is one of the most genuine coaches in the business and his respect for Ryan is real. Asked to describe his relationship with Ryan, he said, “I would use the word admiration. I admire him … you have to admire their program. They’re among college basketball’s elite.”

Miller, like Ryan, is a coach’s kid. His sentiments are sound and true.

“For myself, our program to be facing them, knowing that one of us will win, it’s always bitter when you lose,” Miller said. “But if it happens, it will be nice to see him take that next step because he’s one of the great coaches in our game, for sure.”

Bo Ryan’s late father, Butch, would have been 90 Saturday.

“My dad had a way of (making) people never forget him,” Bo Ryan reminisced. “If you met him, you didn’t forget him because he’d have had a story (to tell) …”

Most of the stories were spawned in March.

“Every year at the Final Four,” he said, “that was our bonding time. So we did it every year … to have a team there … that would be pretty special..

The temblor here Friday might have been a sign that Butch has his bags packed.

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