ANAHEIM, CA–On paper, at least, this was destined to be.
West region top-seeded Arizona (33-4) and second-seed Wisconsin (29-7) are set for a southern California showdown with a guaranteed ticket to next weekend’s Final Four in north Texas on the line.
It has all the billings of a classic matchup featuring the Pac-12’s best and the traditional Big-10 power Badgers who know a thing or two about performing well on the big stage under the bright lights. Bucky’s Badgers and head coach Bo Ryan are a model on consistency when dealing with the Madness of March. Ryan’s made the NCAA tournament in every one of his 13 seasons in Madison and has advanced to the Sweet 16 three of the last four years.
“I know Bo Ryan well,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said during a recent press session at Honda Center leading up to Saturday’s showdown. “He’s one of the best coaches in the game. They’ve had a great season. They play in a tremendous league. I know they’re really skilled.”
The two teams took different regional semi-final paths to reach the Elite Eight. The Badgers started fast and cruised past Baylor 69-52 after consistently punishing the Bears zone defense, while the ‘Cats had to come back late, overcoming a halftime deficit to outlast a talented San Diego State team 70-64.
For Miller and the Wildcats it’s continuing to ride the wave of positive momentum, even though their performance in semi-finals was close to “Arizona basketball.” It’s a simple “on to the next one” approach for UofA.
“Whoever you play in [the Elite Eight] is going to be a great team,” Miller explained with a sheepish grin. “Part of being successful in this next game is to not make the game we just played that big. The turnover is really quick…you have to be really ready.”
Both Ryan and Miller will be looking to reach their first Division-I Final Four as head coaches. Ryan won four Division-III National Championships at Wisconsin-Platville in the 1990’s.