Sitting on the media podium Wednesday afternoon, Bo Ryan tugged on his red warmup and looked down at the sleeves. He doesn’t change much, so he quipped that it the same pullover he wore prior to the start of the 2004 NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee.
A little over 24 hours later, and little had changed for Ryan and his team. The second-seeded Wisconsin Badgers won their first tournament game of 2014 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, crushing the 15th-seeded American University Eagles, 75-35.
Under Ryan, the Badgers are now 11-2 in opening games of the NCAA Tournament.
It was tight for about the first 10 minutes of the game, with the Badgers (27-7) going on a nearly seven-minute scoreless stretch and the Eagles hitting some shots to take a 17-10 lead.
A simple thing, really, changed it all.
Ben Brust hit a 3-pointer on a kick out from Frank Kaminsky with 9 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first half to pull the Badgers to within 17-13.
This singularly unremarkable act started a half-ending 19-3 run, which was the opening leg of a 50-9 marathon that lasted through the halftime and consumed nearly 18 minutes of game action.
"Once everyone sees one go down it kind of spreads," Brust said as Sam Dekker nodded in affirmation next to him. "Everyone started hitting a couple."
By volume, it was an impressive stretch of play. By appearance, it was not. Things don’t change for Ryan and his Badgers. So 50-9 wasn’t entirely fast. It wasn’t sexy. Over that amount of time, it wasn’t even that entertaining. There was a Traevon Jackson 3 there, a Dekker dunk here, a couple of offensive rebounds mixed in with some steals over there.
It was a simple key.
"Hitting shots," Ryan said. "Getting it (a lead) and stretching it. Then you stretch it some more. Just for the players, they sensed something. They felt that if they could do the things that we had talked about and the assistant coach (Gary Close) was right for us. We felt defensively we could do a decent job against the Princeton offense because of the Northwestern teams of old."
It was a run like any other set out upon by a Ryan-coached team seen in any of his previous 700 victories, it just happened to last a lot longer and was far more destructive to the opponent.
"Wisconsin has dismantled some really good teams this year," said Eagles coach Mike Brennan. "They’re No. 2 seed for a reason."
Credit the Badgers, though. They rattled a heretofore steady American (20-13) offense, one that came in shooting nearly 50 percent on the season, and held them to 3 of 19 (15.8 percent) shooting in the second half and 29.7 percent for the game.
"We just couldn’t score today," Brennan said. "We couldn’t figure out a way to get some clean looks and make open shots."
Ryan noted that his team will not be as prepared for their next opponent on Saturday as it was for American, having had the better part of three days to break down the Eagles. Now, they have a day and a half at most. This is where the veteran coach hopes 2014 is different.
The Badgers haven’t advanced beyond the Sweet 16 since 2005 or made a Final Four since 2000.
To change that though, Ryan won’t make any – as you’d expect. It's about preparing for what's next, the next 40 minutes, the next possession, same as ever.
"I know it might sound old, but to me it’s still about what’s coming."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.