MADISON -- Hundreds lined up outside the Kohl Center Sunday afternoon, one hour before the doors at Wisconsin's welcome-home celebration were even opened. An event staff member at the Kohl Center said the staff was expecting at least 10,000 fans in attendance, and any overflow would be sent to the LaBahn Arena to view the ceremony welcoming the Badgers back from their Elite Eight win over Arizona in Anaheim, Calif. The first warm, sunny day of spring in Madison only seemed to bring cheer to those in attendance on Sunday.
As fans entered the arena, they were greeted by a replay of Sunday's second half. The scoreboard read Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63, with 40 minutes remaining on the clock, symbolizing Bo Ryan's "You've earned another 40 minutes" message that he delivered throughout UW's postseason. During what would have been commercials in the record-breaking television broadcast -- 9.9 million viewers tuned in for the game, a cable television record for college basketball -- the crowd was entertained by the wildly popular Nigel "Burgundy" Hayes and his "Hayes for Days" interviews.
As fans waited for the team to arrive, fans watched in agony as Traevon Jackson missed a pull-up jumper at the end of regulation. As the game moved to overtime, the crowd began to grow anxious. They roared when Arizona's Nic Johnson was called for a charge with 3.2 seconds remaining. Thankfully, the Kohl Center staff cut any replays of the late controversial out-of-bounds call. The packed Kohl Center erupted when Johnson failed to get off a shot before time expired, securing Wisconsin's first trip to the Final Four since 2000.
Once the thrilling replay ended, the gatherers at the Kohl Center refused to sit down until the team arrived, which was not for another half hour. The jubilation on the faces of all in attendance was evident, too. They were entertained by band favorites such as "If You Want To Be A Badger," "Swing Town" and "Tequila".
Before the team hit the floor, a two-minute highlight reel of the Badgers' run to the Final Four played. The team eventually arrived, led out onto a makeshift stage on the Kohl Center court with Ben Brust leading the group, hoisting the West Regional Championship trophy above his head. Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser and Brust all addressed the crowd, along with Bo Ryan and long-time equipment manager Otto Puls.
Frank Kaminsky greeted the crowd with "What's up everybodyyyyyyyy" as the fans cheered loudly. The West Regional Most Outstanding Player received an even louder stir from the onlookers when he talked about going to Texas.
"I've heard things are bigger in Texas," Kaminsky said. "Hopefully we will get a bigger trophy"
Gasser thanked fans for their support this year and assured them that although it was a great feat to reach the Final Four, Wisconsin's job was far from over.
"We couldn't have done this without you, but we're gonna need you for two more if we want to continue winning." Gasser said. "Our slogan is ‘Why not us? Why can't we win these two games?'"
Ceremony MC and radio play-by-play man Matt Lepay greeted Brust by saying his family is easily the loudest and then asked if he could ever hear his brother Jonathan while he is on the court.
"I know that voice; I hear it all the time," Brust cracked. "They are going to be down there, too. I hope you guys are, too."
"To be able to do this for coach Ryan and my teammates [is great]."
Ryan won over the crowd by saying he wished he could give a piece of the trophy to everyone.
"I just wish we could take this [trophy] and put it into about 100,000 pieces and give every fan and everybody that has supported us, like you that have that have helped make this all possible, that fill this arena every night."
The winner of the afternoon, however, had to be Puls. The Badgers' beloved equipment manager said he would be surprised if Badger fans didn't fill Cowboys Stadium on Saturday. He implored the fans to show up and support the group.
"This group of people are the greatest group in the world," Plus said. "I love everyone of them," he added as he choked back tears.
The group of players and staff all joined in and sang "Varsity" to send the fans off.