ANAHEIM, Calif. -- On the eve of what would be its first Elite Eight appearance since 2005, Wisconsin men’s basketball was treated to the full California experience as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake rocked Anaheim and the greater Los Angeles area. As the aftershocks continue some 19 hours later, the Honda Center readies for some tremors of its own as top seed Arizona (33-4) and the 2nd seeded Badgers (29-7) prepare to battle for the NCAA West Region title and a spot in next week’s Final Four.
Although the 2014 Big Dance will be remembered for its many upsets and near-upsets, Saturday’s regional final is all chalk. Arizona overcame two poor performances in its first three tournament games, surviving tests against 16-seed Weber State and 4-seed San Diego State en route to its second Elite 8 under head coach Sean Miller.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin will attempt to do something head coach Bo Ryan, the school’s all-time wins leader, has never done: reach the Final Four. Despite posting 320 wins over 12-plus seasons in Madison, Ryan has never made it to the college game’s biggest stage, leaving a blemish on an otherwise stellar resume.
But this Badger team is poised to remove that blemish and take Ryan to the promised land. Wisconsin overcame a shaky start against 15-seed American in its tournament opener, blitzing the Eagles down the stretch and finishing with a 40-point victory, the largest margin of this year’s tournament and the largest margin in school NCAA tournament history.
The Badgers then cemented their place in Anaheim with a come-from-behind win against 7-seed Oregon, outscoring the Ducks 48-29 in the 2nd half to erase a 12-point halftime lead in front of a raucous Milwaukee crowd.
Once in Anaheim, the Badgers showed no letdown, taking immediate command against Baylor and coasting to a 69-52 win in arguably the most complete performance of the NCAA Tournament.
Having each overcome a shaky performance en route to the regional final, both Wisconsin and Arizona seek to reach a Final Four for the first time in over a decade. The Wildcats last took home a regional title in 2001 while UW last did so a year earlier, in 2000.
The teams have split their two NCAA Tournament matchups, with Arizona winning a 2006 first round matchup and the Badgers knocking off another top-ranked Wildcat squad in 2000 en route to the Final Four.
If Wisconsin can duplicate that effort tonight at the Honda Center, the aftershocks will be felt all the way to Madison.