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Wisconsin’s remarkable Final Four run

first_imgThe 2000 Final Four-qualifying Wisconsin men’s basketball team took the game invented by James Naismith and turned it into an ugly slugfest of a competition that made Dean Smith’s four-corners offense look like a Steve Nash fast break.Coached by Dick Bennett, the Badgers tugged, pulled, pushed and any other verb you can think of to make up for the athletic limitations of the team.To say they played at a snail’s pace would be an insult to that majestic, shelled Gastropoda.The team struggled to score — averaging 59.9 points per game for the season — and boasted only one player who even averaged double digits, the legendary Mark Vershaw, at 11.8 points per game.So, what is there to make of a team that sent offensive basketball back 20 years before the creation of the 3-point line?They were completely and totally awesome.Led by point guard Mike Kelly — he, of the 5.0 points per game average, most of which came on fast breaks from his 2.6 steals per game — the Badgers played defense better than any team in the country. With fundamentals Tim Duncan would envy, UW never gave its opponent a clean look at the basket, forcing teams to earn every point.By season’s end, Wisconsin opponents had managed to score a pre-shot clock-like 55.8 points per game.Coming into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, the Badgers knocked off opening-round opponent Fresno State, No. 1 seed Arizona (featuring Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas on the roster), LSU and finally Purdue to reach the Final Four. In the four games leading up to an epic showdown with eventual NCAA Champion Michigan State, UW averaged a whopping 64.2 points per game and held its opponents to a mere 55.7 points per game.Score one for underdogs everywhere.Best of all, this Badger team pissed off then-Kansas coach Roy Williams to whine in a way NFL wide receivers would be proud of.“Are you going to tell me you didn’t like [a 99-98 victory over UCLA the following season] more than 19-17 at halftime?” Williams quipped the next season, alluding to the Wisconsin versus Michigan State Final Four. “We’re trying to make it a game of basketball skills, not a weight-room contest.”On behalf of Wisconsin fans everywhere Roy, you can shove it.Bennett took a Big Ten bottom feeder and made them relevant in his time at UW. Current coach Bo Ryan has built on this success in much of the same vein, emphasizing defense and ball control.All this sprung from a No. 8 seed reaching the 2000 Final Four, in whatever way it could.last_img read more