Badgers in the Final Four

The University of Wisconsin Badgers faced off against the University of Kentucky Wildcats April 4 in an epic semifinal match-up in the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The game, which was played in Dallas, Texas, pitted two very different teams against one another.

Kentucky is known for recruiting individuals who want to make use of the “one-and-done” rule, which allows basketball players to play college basketball for one year, gain some attention by playing really well, and head straight to the NBA. In other words, Kentucky recruits players who are ready to play professional basketball and just need the stepping stone of college ball to get there. In fact, Kentucky’s entire starting line-up for the 2013-2014 season consisted and freshmen and it is unlikely that any of them will return next year.

Contrarily, Wisconsin likes to develop players over their four years of college. The athletes at Wisconsin focus on education as well as the sport; they are not just there to play basketball. Wisconsin’s line-up this season consisted of mostly juniors and seniors, with a few younger individuals getting playing time as well. In fact, all of the major players from Wisconsin, with the exception of senior Ben Brust, will return next year.

Many sports analysts characterized the Final Four game as a competition between talent and dedication. The Wildcats had five extremely talented individuals starting, as they had the ability to beat any team in the NCAA and arguably a handful of NBA teams. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s line-up consisted of hard-working individuals who were assuredly talented, but had to tough out a lot more wins throughout the season.

Having recently decided to attend UW-Madison next year, I decided to go there on the day of the big game so that I could see my sisters (a sophomore and a senior at Madison) and try to get a feel for college life. We watched the game in Union South, a recently renovated student union (one of two on campus), and the atmosphere was absolutely crazy. I had never before witnessed such a large group of people sharing such a whirlwind of emotions. When the Badgers made a good play, the roar was deafening; when something went wrong, I could feel the entire crowd’s anxiety. Despite the fact that the players couldn’t hear us, the students often started cheers in support of their team, and even members of the Wisconsin band were there to play songs during the commercial breaks.

The game was extremely close the entire way through. The Badgers led by a slim margin of about five points for the majority of the first half. When the first half ended, Wisconsin had a 40-36 lead. There was plenty of excitement, but many were nervous that the lead was not large enough. At the very beginning of the second half, the Wildcats closed the gap and earned a lead of 8 points for themselves. The Badgers slowly recovered from their sluggish start at the beginning of the half and managed to pull within a couple point of their opponents. The game remained tight all the way up until the end.

Finally, with only 16 seconds left and the score tied at 71, Andrew Harrison of the Wildcats fouled Traevon Jackson as he was attempting a 3-point shot. As a result, Jackson received three free throws and a chance to give the Badgers a lead. He missed the first free throw, but made the other two. The score was 73-71, Badgers. However, Aaron Harrison (Kentucky) responded quickly with a successful three-pointer that went in with only 6 seconds remaining. After both teams took a timeout, Wisconsin had 6 seconds to try to win the game. In the end, they came up short and Jackson missed a jump shot just as the clock was expiring. And just like that, the Badgers’ hopes were dashed and the Wildcats had pulled out at 74-73 win.

The amount of sadness, disappointment, and sheer disbelief that I saw around me when the game ended was staggering. Soon after the game had ended, the band began to play “Varsity,” UW-Madison’s slow school song. Students put their arms around one another, swayed with the song, and sang along. Many had tears in their eyes. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed.

However, after being in Madison for the game, I’m more excited than ever to head off to college and start the next chapter of my life. Hopefully, with many of players returning, next year’s season will be even better.