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Our Views: Badgers, fans have 30 reasons to beam with pride

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April 7, 2014

That one hurt.

“It sucks we came up short,” Badger center Frank Kaminsky said in Monday's Gazette.

Yes, it does.

“Obviously, I'll remember this forever,” Ben Brust said of Wisconsin's 74-73 loss to Kentucky in the Final Four.

Many Badger fans will remember it forever, as well. Even having the Brewers sweep the defending World Series champion Red Sox over the weekend—during Boston's home-opening series, no less—failed to take the sting out of Saturday night's Badger defeat.

On the plus side, critics of Bo Ryan can finally stop their rants that the UW coach had never taken a team to the Final Four. But to see the season end just short of the national title game when Traevon Jackson's last-second jumper rattled out makes the loss even tougher to take. Top it, of course, with the setback coming at the hands of Kentucky's five freshmen starters, players who use the campus not to earn degrees but as a brief NBA training ground.

Did we mention this one hurts?

The suffering is even more pronounced knowing that these opportunities are so rare. Sure, fans realize Brust was the only senior among the UW's top eight players. Could the Badgers be even better next season? Perhaps. But life offers no guarantees.

Instead of mourning too long, however, let's pause, step back and consider the team's full body of work. A team few if any experts predicted would compete for a Big Ten title won a school record 16 straight games to start the season. Its national ranking climbed with each victory. After their first loss, the Badgers went into a funk, losing five of six, and the season looked as if it had spiraled out of control. The team's deficiencies, especially on defense, glared.

It might have been one of Ryan's greatest coaching feats to turn this club around so dramatically that it then won eight straight conference games. No, it didn't win a Big Ten title, but it finished second during the regular season, keeping intact Ryan's record of never having finished lower than fourth in his 13 seasons.

After its opening NCAA game, the UW faced one tough foe after another and put each away. This Final Four berth—the first since Dick Bennett led that offensively challenged club to basketball's promised land in 2000—helped fans forget about our late-arriving spring. March Madness was in full bloom across the Badger State.

Upon reflection, the Badgers enjoyed a great year. It wasn't as spectacular as it might have been, but it was impressive by any measure. Remember, only one team among the 68 that enter the NCAA tournament field winds up smiling. This Wisconsin team should stand proud. The club finished 30-8 and made fans proud to say we live in the Badger State.

“We had a hell of a run,” Kaminsky said.

Amen.



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