Can fun-loving Wisconsin keep it going against Duke in NCAA Title Game?
INDIANAPOLIS – There is a coach that Bo Ryan might want to strike up a conversation with over the next 36 hours.
He’s the guy that might be able to understand what he and his Wisconsin squad are going through at this moment after knocking off previously undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Mark Johnson is the women’s hockey coach for the Badgers and in 1980 was a key contributor to the United States hockey team’s stunning upset of Russia in the Winter Olympics. It was the spotlight win of the team’s unlikely path to a gold medal and this “Miracle on Ice” is considered the greatest moment in American history.
But the win over the USSR wasn’t the one that brought home that big prize. It was a comeback victory a few days later over Finland-a game which the US trailed in the second intermission-that got the gold.
“I was reminded I can’t tell you by how many people, Hey, Bo, in 1980, you know after we beat Russia, we had to beat Finland. The first guy that said it to me, I don’t know a lot about hockey, but I knew about the ’80 team. I said, You know what, you’re right. Most people think that Russia was the gold medal game,” said Ryan. “I’ve been reminded on a few text messages that Finland is Duke, both really good teams.
“Duke is a really good team. I think Finland was a good team because they got to the finals.”
Bo’s right. Duke is a really good team and at the moment are standing in their way of the Badgers’ first national championship since 1941. While the Kentucky victory may go down as one of the biggest in program history all might be for not should the Badgers not show up to face the Blue Devils.
"Yes, we know we've got 40 more, as I've said a thousand times," said Ryan. "But we know we got some work to do. I think last night's game simply says, Okay, it puts you in position now to go after the championship."
On Monday night Wisconsin will face a team that may be as good as the Wildcats and are playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Blue Devils have won 17 of their last 18 games and only once in the NCAA Tournament has a team stayed within ten points of them.
Duke pounded Michigan State by 20 points in their semifinal thanks in part of Chicago-area native Jahlil Okafor's 18 points. He'll be involved in the best match-up of the night with a fellow Chicagoan Frank Kaminsky, who had 20 points and ten rebounds in the Kentucky win.
Yet Okafor, a likely top three NBA Draft pick who is likely playing in his final college game on Monday, hesitates to make it a match-up of himself and Kaminsky.
"We have to deal with the entire Wisconsin team," said Okafor when talking about playing against Kaminsky. "So it's going to be a collection of myself and my teammates working together on both ends of the floor. They're better than just one player.
"We're going to have our hands full come tomorrow night."
Back in December Okafor and Duke managed to take care of that duty well as they handed Wisconsin their only home loss of the year in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Kaminsky had more points (17-13) and rebounds (9-6) than Okafor but the Blue Devils were strong in a ten-point win.
The Badgers will get one more shot at the Blue Devils at Lucas Oil Stadium with quite a bit more on the line for the players and the team.
"It's going to be a good matchup. To be the best, you got to beat the best," said Kaminsky of Okafor and Duke. "He's one of the best in the country, and Duke is one of the best teams in the country. We see it as another good match-up for us.
"We're going to do whatever we have to do to come out on top."
To make sure that their last game is bigger than the one before it."