ANAHEIM — The last time Arizona played an Elite Eight game at the Honda Center three years ago, Sean Miller endured the heartbreak of watching Jamelle Horne's go-ahead 3-pointer rim out as time expired. In some ways, Saturday night's 64-63 overtime loss to Wisconsin had to be even more painful.
Arizona had three chances to win in the final seconds of regulation, but the Wildcats could not come through in the clutch on any of them.
T.J. McConnell missed a mid-range jump shot with 13 seconds left. Nick Johnson corralled the offensive rebound and attacked the rim but pushed off to create space against Josh Gasser and got called for an offensive foul with under four seconds to go. Then after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson forced a turnover, Nick Johnson took too long to get his final shot off, ending Arizona's dream season one victory shy of Sean Miller's first career Final Four and sending Wisconsin to the Final Four for the first time since 2000.
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If Wisconsin's efficient, multi-faceted offense has poked holes in the image of the Badgers as defensive-minded this season, their postseason success has dented another well-worn stereotype. The label of postseason underachievers has stuck with Wisconsin throughout the Bo Ryan era because the Badgers made the NCAA tournament all of his 13 seasons in Madison yet had only made one Elite Eight and zero Final Fours prior to this year.
Finally reaching a Final Four fills one of the few holes in Ryan's otherwise impeccable resume. He has long scoffed at the idea that his career would feel incomplete without ever coaching in a Final Four or that he would be a better coach because he made one, but there's no denying it will boost his legacy.
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The win carries a special meaning for Ryan as well. Ryan had taken his father, Butch, to every Final Four since 1976 as a birthday gift. The elder Ryan died the morning of Aug. 30 in Fort Myers, Fla., at age 89, leaving behind a rich tapestry of stories about his colorful life. Bo Ryan admitted to Yahoo Sports earlier in the week that his dad would have enjoyed following the Badgers this March.
"I tell ya, it's going to be tough," Ryan said in the postgame interview. "It's going to be tough to be there coaching without him. But I can't imagine him being any happier, or my mom who passed away about a year ago. So I'm happy I've been able to be on the sideline and do this thing called coaching because my parents gave me the opportunity to pursue it. My wife, my kids. I can't thank them enough ... But this is for Butch."
The formula for Ryan's first-ever Elite Eight bid was smothering defense and lots of Frank Kaminsky. The onetime role player turned star scored 26 points, hurting Arizona on pick-and-pops, drives and back-to-the-basket post moves.
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