With the Badgers now nine days removed from their final basketball game of the season, this seems to be a good time to reflect on some of the images of a program that made the NCAA tournament for the eleventh straight year.
The opener against Long Beach State turned out to be a preview of coming attractions. Remember it was a one-point game in the final minute, and then Marcus Landry hit a clutch three to give the Badgers a little breathing room. They won by seven, but who knew then that Wisconsin would be involved in so many tight games? As it turned out, the Badgers had 14 games decided by no more than five points, winning seven of those close encounters.
I’ll remember sitting on my couch at home, listening to the Badgers overtime tussle with Iona. Mike Lucas and I stayed back to call the football game with Cal Poly (for the final time, thanks again Bret!), while Mike Heller and Andy North described the games in the Virgin Islands. It was a bit odd for me to be listening to a Wisconsin basketball game, but my wife Linda said it was funny for her to watch me squirm while it appeared the Badgers might lose. They didn’t of course, but she was entertained by my pain.
Naturally, Trevon Hughes’ last second shot to beat Virginia Tech is a snapshot UW fans will have of this past season. It was a heck of a game, and while the Badgers were none too pleased to be sent on the road again for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the result made for a happy ride back to Madison.
Speaking of the road, there are always a couple of memories away from the arena. For the most part, our radio crew keeps at least some separation from the players, mostly because we are too old to relate to them anyway. However, when you travel with a team, you can get to know some of them a little bit better. It is always fun to talk Minnesota Vikings football with devoted fan Jordan Taylor. He loves to dish it out, and I’m looking forward to continuing the banter for the next three years.
I’ll miss seeing Joe Krabbenhoft’s father Kelby on the road. We get to see some parents more than others, and Kelby is one of the all-time good guys. He made it to as many games as he could, and even though Joe is moving on, hopefully Kelby will continue to see some games from time to time.
Of course, no UW highlight reel would be complete without Marcus Landry’s 1,000th career point, which came against Iowa, or Hughes’ overtime heroics in the NCAA tournament against Florida State, but there is another memory that might stay with me as long as any other, and it happened after a loss.
The moment occurred in East Lansing, about 45 minutes after the Badgers played Michigan State. MSU was celebrating the 30-year anniversary of its 1979 NCAA Championship. Most of the players from that team, including Magic Johnson, were at the game. Also in attendance was Coach Jud Heathcote. After the game, as the Wisconsin team bus was pulling away from the Breslin Center, Bo Ryan asked the driver to stop for a moment. The Badgers’ coach wanted to say hello to Heathcote, who was sitting in the front of another bus carrying the former Spartans.
Coach Heathcote has battled some heath issues, and has slowed down a bit, but clearly he has proven to be one of the game’s top coaches and great characters. At one time he also offered Bo a spot on his staff. Imagine, Bo Ryan wearing green and white? Anyway, from the Wisconsin team bus, I just sat and watched Bo and Jud have a little visit. Two coaches who have led teams to a combined 996 wins. Two coaches who know what it is like to cut down nets in March. The conversation lasted just a couple of minutes, but you could tell both men enjoyed the chance to visit.
Covering a team gives people like me a chance to see and describe some wonderful moments, but often times the best memories are the ones that have nothing to do with who wins or loses a game. And that particular moment could serve as a reminder that Wisconsin sure is lucky Bo decided against moving to East Lansing.