Wisconsin Plays Kentucky On Saturday In Final Four Showdown

Semi-Final Marks First Time Since 2000 That Men's Team Has Visited Final Four

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AT&T Stadium, where the game will take place. Photo: Scott Ellis (CC-BY-SA)

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team will play the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA tournament’s semi-final game on Saturday night.

It will be Wisconsin’s first appearance in the Final Four since 2000, and their third appearance overall. The first time was when the Badgers won the national championship in 1941.

Matt Lepay is the radio voice of Badger basketball.

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Terry Bell: You and I spoke earlier in the season, just when they came off that 16-game winning streak to start the season. And we all knew that this was a special team, but was there any inkling that they’d be making a Final Four run?

Matt LePay: To be real honest with you, at the beginning of the season – and when I (say) that, I’m talking about the summer, going into training camp – I thought that on paper, they may be a team better built for next year to make this kind of run. But as the season was unfolding, it became evident that this was a team that can score. (They have) five guys on the floor generally who are capable of scoring, and at least four, and sometimes five, who are capable of making three-point shots. So they’re a hard team to guard. They went through a tough stretch, but if they continued to improve defensively, you certainly wouldn’t rule out a run like this. So not as surprising, maybe this time around, than it might have been in the 2000 season.

TB: Yeah, they didn’t sneak up on people this year like they did under Dick Bennett.

ML: No, that team under Dick Bennett went .500 in the Big Ten, but it got hot at the right time. But this Wisconsin team, you’re right, it doesn’t sneak up on people anymore. They’ve finished fourth or better in the Big Ten every year under Bo Ryan. So at worst, I think everybody else, at least in the Big Ten, knows Wisconsin is going to be a very hard team to beat.

And this year, Terry, the schedule that the Badgers played, even before the Big Ten season, the schedule was grueling. You played a team like Florida, you played a team like Saint Louis, the annual game with Marquette, Green Bay had a very good team this season, and Wisconsin had to win up in Green Bay in a down-to-the-wire game. So, I think this group has been tested more than most in college basketball, just looking at who was on the schedule. And I’m not even talking about the Big Ten, which was as deep as it maybe has ever been.

TB: That was a few months ago, but could that experience serve them well this weekend?

ML: It certainly can’t hurt. In a single-elimination tournament, five bad minutes can cost you. Kentucky has a ton of talent, but I just think given the schedule that Wisconsin has played … this group has been there before. The stage gets bigger, obviously, every step you go in this NCAA tournament, but they know that when they play at their best, they can beat anybody.

TB: Head coach Bo Ryan has had a lot of success, especially in (UW-Platteville) in Division III. What does this mean for him, now, to finally make it to this Final Four, and get that monkey off his back of being the most successful coach in college basketball never to make it to the Final Four?

ML: No matter what line of work you’re in, it’s what your peers think (that counts). And I think that if you surveyed the landscape of coaches before last Saturday night, their opinion of Bo would have been extremely high. The body of work, 700-plus wins, the Big Ten championships, the always-high finishes in the Big Ten race, what he did at Platteville — I don’t think that if you surveyed his peers that they would tell you that he needs a final four to be, quote, “validated.”

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