A colleague of mine at my first journalism job had a boys basketball coach who would occasionally vent his displeasure with his team with this sportswriter. On occasion, when said sportswriter wanted to move on, the coach would say, no, I’m not finished with this yet.
Obviously Badger fans noticed that the sun came up Sunday, and will come up today, after Saturday night’s soul-crushing 74-73 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Division I basketball national semifinal. Which doesn’t mean that Badger fans need not put away their anger with Saturday’s game.
For instance: I neither play nor coach basketball, but it would seem that a cardinal rule when you are leading by two points inside 10 seconds is don’t give up the three-point shot! The chance of giving up a three-point play (basket and free throw) are less than a team’s average success hitting threes, particularly a team that has hit clutch threes in the tournament. If you prevent the three, the worst that happens is that the Wildcats score, the Badgers don’t, and we head to overtime for the second consecutive game.
I’m not going to say anything about Traevon Jackson’s unsuccessful shot at the end. The chances of a team’s going 94 feet in 5.7 seconds and getting off a game-winner are very low. The game was lost 5.7 seconds earlier. Blame whoever you like for that.
One good thing about Saturday night was the chance to watch announcers who were not biased against Wisconsin. Wayne Larrivee and Mike Kelley sounded great on truTV, and as I have advocated here before, there is very little technological reason that the broadcasters cannot give the fans a choice of announcers. National broadcasts of Wisconsin games do not show enough, for instance, of the UW Band. In the same way that Fox announcers are perceived as biased for the Giants and Cowboys because bigger markets draw better, Wisconsin fans are pretty obviously tired of being disrespected by Fox’s, CBS’, NBC’s, ESPN’s, and everyone else’s announcers, right down to the pronunciation of “Wisconsin,” as viewers of the 1994 Rose Bowl can attest.
The game was maddening because it’s hard to imagine UW able to play much better than they did. They missed one free throw, and lost by one point. People with morals are also put off by cheaters, and that is how many basketball fans look at UK’s one-and-dones and their coach, John Calipari, who had two seasons of wins on his record vacated due to NCAA violations, at UMass and at Memphis. (Which got both UK and Calipari in trouble with the NCAA yet again when UK honored Calipari for his 500th win, which wasn’t officially his 500th win due to the aforementioned NCAA violations.
The game was saddening because, as sports fans know, “next time” is not guaranteed. The last time I saw UW lose to Kentucky, it was in the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham. It was first bowl game I marched in. It was also the last bowl game I marched in, though no one knew that at the time. Yes, Wisconsin loses only starter Ben Brust to graduation. But what if Frank Kaminsky or, as some have speculated, Sam Dekker gets delusions of grandeur and leaves school for the NBA draft? That’s not likely in either case, but it’s not impossible.
Badger announcer Matt Lepay said after Wisconsin’s win over Arizona nine days ago that he honestly thought the Badgers were a year away. Few Packer fans seriously believed the 2010 Packers, needing to win their last two just to get into the playoffs, would win Super Bowl XLV. Most Packer fans probably thought the 2011 Packers, having gone 15-1 in the regular season, were a cinch for Super Bowl XLVI. There is no guarantee at all that, as one USA Today writer already predicts, UW will play in the 2015 Final Four in Indianapolis. Too many bad things, or too few good things, could happen, and regardless of that, UW will sneak up on no one next season. (Nor will they get any postseason home-like court advantage, given that the closest second- and third-round sites are Columbus, Ohio, Louisville and Omaha.)
I wrote last week that UW fans need to appreciate this Final Four trip, win or lose, because of its rarity, compared to the bad old days. Repeating that would be repeating myself. Still, it’s entirely possible that UW’s best chance of a national championship in basketball expired Saturday night.