With one day standing between Wisconsin and a chance to punch a ticket to the national championship, head coach Bo Ryan and selected Badgers players met with the media to discuss their impending Final Four matchup against Kentucky.
INDIANAPOLIS - The media circus would love to tell you tomorrow's Final Four game is one of redemption for Wisconsin, but the Badgers don't quite see it that way.
"Obviously, that (last year's 74-73 Final Four loss to Kentucky
) was a tough one to swallow," Sam Dekker
said. "It was tough to get over because of how special a season it had been, how close we were to playing for a national title. We used that kind of as a steppingstone going into the off-season, what we wanted to, what we wanted to accomplish, not necessarily playing Kentucky, but just getting back in this position, having a chance in 40 minutes to get to a national title. So we're blessed to be back in this position. We're not going to use last year's game as what you guys like to call revenge or the rematch. We want to play whoever we got to play and get a win to go onto another game."
For Frank Kaminsky
, beating Wisconsin is merely part of reaching a larger goal.
"It's a great story," Kaminsky said. "To talk about last year when we played them and the way we lost, then to come back and to beat them on the same stage would be a story book ending almost. Last year's loss was obviously very difficult. To lose in the way we did on a last-second shot, it left a sour taste. It was a motivating factor to get back to this stage. Just luck of the draw we get to play Kentucky again.
But our goal is to win a National Championship, and we know we have to beat good teams if we're going to do that."
is wary that the allure of ending Kentucky's 38-0 winning streak cannot overshadow the ultimate task at hand.
"That would definitely be a good thing (to end Kentucky's undefeated streak), but if we were to do that and not get our goal for the main reason why we are here, then I guess it wouldn't be as great as it sounds," Hayes said.
Wisconsin returns eight of nine contributors from last year's team while Kentucky returns six of nine. According to Wisconsin's Josh Gasser
, some carry-over from last year's Final Four game is unavoidable, but the loss isn't the only takeaway.
"They're a completely different team, to be honest," Gasser said. "They've got a couple of guys back, but they're really structurally different. We could obviously take that we played them, we stuck with them. It was a one-possession game so we have that confidence that we can go toe-to-toe with them. They're a different team, we're a different team, so whatever happens, happens."
Head coach Bo Ryan
believes in the power of the present when confronted with the question of facing unfinished business.
"I've never tried to use poster material or articles to get my guys fired up to play because I always figure if you have to use that kind of motivation to get a team ready to play, how are you going to top it for the next game? What do you do next? What other story can you come up with? So I try to stick with what we have control over at the time."
Kaminsky garners AP player of the year award
Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky was announced as The Associated Press' player of the year on Friday afternoon during a press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kaminsky received 58 of the 65 votes as voted by the national media committee who selects the weekly Top 25. Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor received five votes while Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein and Notre Dame's Jerian Grant each earned one.
"It's a nice award, but it really doesn't mean anything come game time," Kaminsky said. "I like to try to play better than my opponents, and I think any competitor would say that. You want to beat the best teams. You want to play the best competition, and that's what we're looking to do here. Kentucky has been the best team this year, so obviously it's going to be a good game and we want to get the win."
The Badgers' 7-foot big man averaged 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds during the regular season. Kaminsky shot 54.9 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from behind the arc.
Kaminsky is the first player in Wisconsin basketball history to win the award. Earlier in the day, Kaminsky was named the national player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Kaminsky was presented with the Oscar Robertson Trophy by Oscar Robertson himself with Ryan and his teammates present.
Offense on fire
In the second half of the Elite Eight against Arizona, Wisconsin scored 55 points in 34 possessions against one of the top defenses in the country. Even for a team as efficient as the Badgers, such proficiency turned heads.
"So it's not true when you saw us do that, that you closed your eyes and said, 'Wait a minute, that's not Wisconsin?' Ryan said. "You didn't say that? Yeah, how about 10-of-12 from three? You know, I would really like to say that that was coaching. That was a couple guys being in the zone. We've had teams do it to us. It's always nice when you can do it to another team. Will that ever be done again that way with threes? But for a half, to do what we did, I think our guys are still pinching themselves."
Kentucky head coach John Calipari called Wisconsin the best offensive team that the Wildcats will face all season. Over the last 10 games, Wisconsin has averaged 49.2 percent shooting from the field.
"I would hope you (media) wouldn't tell my guys that he said that," Ryan said. "Okay, we've been efficient. You know what? What you can't do is you can't lie with the numbers that our players have put on the board this year for points per possession and everything else. It still is quite amazing... Again, who led the NCAA tournament last year in scoring? It seems like I'm the only one that ever says it. You know why? 'Cause one of my assistants told me. Does anyone know who led the tournament? Wisconsin did. When you (media) say (Calipari) said that we run a pretty good offense, yeah. You know what, they play pretty good defense. You can tell his guys that they've got the best defense we've seen."
Wisconsin is no stranger to playing in a dome, and Ryan believes that familiarity could aid in his team's shooting efforts tomorrow night.
"Last year and this year, especially in Dallas, the shooting background, when we first started our shooting drills, I saw more clangs than I have ever seen," Ryan said. "A little bit of nerves. This one is not quite as deep, Lucas (Oil). When we came in here, they've been there before so it wasn't quite as difficult. Actually, our shooting this year was better than last year. Still wasn't as good as like when we're at home, but it was better."
Dekker not worried about future
Will the most outstanding player from the tournament's West region turn pro at the conclusion of this season? The junior forward acknowledged a decision is on the table, but a day prior to the Final Four the NBA isn't exactly on the forefront on his mind.
"Obviously that's a decision I'm going to have to make," Dekker said. "Both options are available. I can't worry about that. I just have to do my thing. One doesn't present itself over the the other, if I play my game everything will fall into place, and it will be something I don't have to worry about. I have to leave those distractions off to the side and my personal life off to the side and just focus on Wisconsin basketball and do what I have to do here. When the time comes I'll make that decision but right now I'm just focusing on what's in front of us and this team in this moment and being a kid."
"The best I have felt"
Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson
suffered a fracture in his right foot in a mid-January loss to Rutgers. Jackson's first game back from injury was vs. North Carolina in the Sweet 16 when he saw nine minutes of action. Against Arizona in the Elite Eight, Jackson registered seven minutes. The senior says he won't be focused on playing time tomorrow night.
"I just want to help out any way possible," Jackson said. "I am going to come out here and play to the fullest of my ability and help the team out and just truly play and have fun. I can only control what I can control just be ready when the opportunity presents itself. The best thing about it is that I have another opportunity to literally solidify my legacy at Wisconsin for the last two games and just help the team out."
Jackson did not practice on Tuesday, though he participated in all drills Wednesday and Thursday.
"It was just a precautionary type of thing to get some more rest," Jackson said. "This is the best I have felt since being back and I am looking forward to getting stronger every day."
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