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CHICAGO - For the last four seasons, the University of Wisconsin has spent Selection Sunday watching its fate revealed in a quiet team gathering at the Kohl Center.
This year wasn't the same quiet setting, although the disappointment and desire for one final push toward a championship still remains.
"We're not going into the tournament of making the Sweet 16," said freshman Sam Dekker following No.22 Wisconsin's 50-43 loss in the Big Ten Title game to No.10 Ohio State. "We're going down there with the intention to win every game we face. We're not going to be scared of the challenge.
"We have to be ready, and I think we will be ready."
Continuing its program-record of 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances (tied for the fourth longest current streak in the nation), Wisconsin (23-11) was announced as a No.4 seed in the West Region, opening play Friday against 12th-seed Ole Miss in Kansas City, Mo.
Wisconsin finished 12-6 and tied for fourth place in the Big Ten, the 12th time in 12 seasons that the Badgers finished in fourth place or better in the Big Ten under UW coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin's run of 12 straight years is second longest in conference history and the longest since Purdue had a run of 13 in a row 80 years ago.
Going 7-6 against teams in the AP top 25, including seven wins against teams in the top 15, the Badgers enter the NCAA Tournament with an 8-8 record away from the Kohl Center and 3-2 on neutral sites.
"I think we can play with anyone in the country and beat anyone in the country," said junior guard Ben Brust. "It takes a whole 40 minutes of basketball and I think we've done a good job of that. When shots aren't falling, we've got to defend. When shots are falling when we're defending, we're a hard team to beat."
Ole Miss (26-8, 12-6 SEC) played itself off the bubble by beating Florida, 66-63, in Sunday's SEC championship game to earn the program's first SEC tournament title since 1981 the school's seventh NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2002. The Rebels are led by junior guard Marshall Henderson's 20.0 points per game. He's eclipsed 20 points in five straight games.
This will be the first meeting between the two schools. Wisconsin is 23-16 against the SEC, including 1-1 this season. UW joins seven other Big Ten teams (No.1 Indiana, No.2 Ohio State, No.3 Michigan State, No.4 Michigan, No.7 Illinois and No.11 Minnesota) in the 68-team field.
"This conference is one of the best in the country," said sophomore Frank Kaminksy in reference to the Big Ten. "There is no competition that compares. We'll be ready for anything."
The Badgers are 25-17 in 18 previous appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Badgers defeated No.13 Montana and No.5 Vanderbilt before losing to top-seed Syracuse, 64-63, in the Sweet 16 in Boston.
"It's real exciting to keep on going," said senior Ryan Evans. "It's going to be real hard to take these seniors down."