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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Wisconsin can’t badger the Wildcats anymore, for now

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Rebecca Noble

Then-Arizona-senior-point-guard T.J. McConnell (4) shares a moment of despair with head coach Sean Miller with a hug following the Wildcats’ defeat at the hands of Wisconsin in the Elite Eight on March 28. McConnell graduated from Arizona after the season’s end and currently starts in the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Sean Miller can finally count his blessings and thank the basketball gods because, for once, he doesn’t have to look forward to Wisconsin.

Miller doesn’t have to look forward to Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in particular, who combined to give Arizona nightmares in the Wildcats’ two most recent runs to the Elite Eight.

Much like the Wildcats, the Badgers will also reload in an attempt to bounce back after a deep run in March, when they made the National Championship and lost to Duke last season.

Those damn Badgers have been the only team holding the Wildcats back. We’re all just waiting in anticipation for Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan to act as Gandalf the Grey and tell Miller, “You shall not pass.”

The roots of the Wildcats’ suddenly frequent Elite Eight run-ins with the Badgers stem from the 2013-2014 season.

California handed a 21-0 and No. 1 ranked Arizona team its first loss of the season, as the Wildcats lost forward Brandon Ashley for the remainder of the year because of a broken foot.

Arizona would eventually win the conference and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but once the Wildcats and Badgers went toe-to-toe in the Regional Championship, it felt as if these two teams were destined to run into each other somewhere down the road.

The Wildcats had the best conditions possible to send Miller to his first Final Four, but Nick Johnson crumbled under pressure and took too many dribbles as time expired and the infamous clash broke out at Main Gate Square.

Students threw bottles and came under fire with rubber bullets because they expected their Wildcats to compete in the Final Four. Arizona players dropped to the court in disbelief and shed tears because they knew just how close they were to what they thought was their destiny.

Wisconsin took that from Arizona.

Arizona had one missing piece from that squad, and it was the lengthy and versatile Ashley to defend Kaminsky. Kaleb Tarczewski was put on skates in the low post and allowed “Frank the Tank” to post 28 points and 11 rebounds.

Arizona needed more than one player to matchup with Kaminsky, so there shouldn’t have been an excuse in the Wildcats’ 2014-2015 Elite Eight run.

Postseason rivalries will always be the games where everyone is locked in and ready for a grudge match. The Lakers-Celtics and Pistons-Bulls rivalries in the NBA Playoffs were matchups that, no matter where the game was played, just one turnover could cost a team its season.

When Arizona played Wisconsin for the second consecutive year and on the same stage, the college basketball world turned into a soap opera. Except this time, Ashley was healthy and the streaking Wildcats seemed to have had all of the answers to finally beat the Badgers.

Miller made the decision to let Rondae Hollis-Jefferson defend Kaminsky on the low block. The “Shim Reaper” could only contain Kaminsky to a certain degree because every time he dished the ball to Dekker, it went through the hoop.

“It was tough,” Hollis-Jefferson said in a press release after the matchup. “One minute, I’m on [Kaminsky] and [Dekker] is going off. Then I got switched to [Dekker] and then [Kaminsky] is going off. I can’t guard both players. … We didn’t have an answer.”

The Badgers shot 38.5 percent from the field in the first half, but caught fire in the second half to shoot 78.9 percent. Wisconsin completed the comeback and bested Arizona 85-78.

Kaminsky and Dekker finished the afternoon with 56 combined points.

Arizona didn’t lose to Wisconsin. The Wildcats were single-handedly beaten by Dekker and Kaminsky.

“It was a hell of a game, what else can you say?” Stanley Johnson said in a press release after Arizona’s second straight Elite Eight loss. “We were a team, one of the best [Miller] has ever coached I guess, and we fell short again.”

Arizona is still trying to figure it out.

But with the lethal and seemingly unbeatable Badger duo now trying to find its way in the NBA—Dekker with the Rockets and Kaminsky with the Hornets—Miller can finally sleep at night.

If Arizona is on the same side of the bracket as Wisconsin this season, the Wildcats should pray for an upset. As destiny has proven before, its not a question as to if these programs will square off again, but when.


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.


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