ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In 36 years of coaching college basketball, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has never sat down. Not once.
Instead, Ryan, 64, favors a catcher's squat in front of the bench, which he holds for two- and three-minute intervals at a time, coming out of it only to argue a call or when there's a timeout.
"I've never sat in a game except in high school because they had the seat-belt rule in the Philly area. … You had to stay seated," Ryan explained. "I want the players that come out to sit next to the assistant coach who has to scout the [opposing] team because that's how information gets passed."
So when Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, one of the nation's premier scorers, launched a potential game-winning 3-pointer with six seconds to go in a third-round matchup in the NCAA tournament, there was Ryan doing his best Carlton Fisk impression.
And once again, it worked.
Jenkins' shot caromed high off the back of the iron, hung in the air for a bit of a dramatic pause – would it go in, giving the Commodores a one-point lead? – before falling harmlessly into the hands of the Badgers' Ryan Evans. One free throw and a blocked in-bounds pass later Wisconsin emerged victorious, 60-57, to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in 11 seasons under Ryan.
"That was as wide open a shot as we gave up the whole game," Ryan said afterward. "It just didn't happen to go down."
Next up is top-seeded Syracuse, and if the Badgers don't win, the eye-rolling will continue. Yeah, Wisconsin always is pretty good, and, sure, only three schools have more consecutive NCAA tournament appearances than the Badgers' 13. But what do they have to show for it other than a single Final Four appearance in 2000 and just one trip to the Elite Eight under Ryan?
This is of no secret to Ryan, mainly because every year around this time, he's reminded of his Badgers' shortcomings.
"We really don't care about the peripheral things that are," he said after Saturday's win. "I would think that people have learned that over the years. There are just some programs that have a way of doing things. They keep working hard, and then sometimes every once in a while, things fall into place. Guys get hot. That's what the NCAA tournament is. We're not anything but who we are."
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So who is Wisconsin?
"We're going to the Sweet 16 in 2012 to play a very good team," he replied. "That means we survived and advanced. Gets harder. Everybody wants to win."
Win No. 651 for Ryan came 36 years to the day after he first arrived in Wisconsin … on St. Patrick's Day … in the beer-brewing Mecca of the United States.
"I realize people in Wisconsin drink a lot of beer because it was St. Patrick's Day," said Ryan, who became an assistant at Wisconsin in 1976 before moving on head-coaching jobs at UW Platteville (1984-99) and UW Milwaukee (1999-2001). "Not any more than anybody else. But I realized Wisconsin is a state that they love life. They know how to enjoy themselves, but they also know how to work hard, and they appreciate people that work hard."
Kind of like his native Philadelphia, a city that don't apologize for anything, especially not its blue-collar foundation.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Ryan-coached teams lack flair and are only interested in one thing: getting the job done, which in this case means scoring at least one more point than their opponent.
In his 11 seasons at Wisconsin, Ryan has had just two players taken in the first round of the NBA draft. The Badgers current best player is Jordan Taylor, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard who's slotted as a possible second-round pick. Taylor led the Badgers with 14 points on Saturday.
Taylor was one of five players in double figures for the Badgers, who got a lift late in the second half from 6-foot-nothing Ben Brust, a reserve guard who came off the bench to score 11 straight points for Wisconsin to keep the Commodores at bay.
[ Related: Buckeyes entered Big Dance with a bad attitude ]
Afterward it was revealed that Josh Gasser, who started every game this season for Wisconsin, was up most of the night battling flu-like symptoms. He threw up and needed several IVs before he was cleared to play, which he did, logging 24 minutes.
This is who Wisconsin has been, is and will continue to be as long as Ryan is coach – a hard-working, superstar-less gang that's tough as their coach's knees. The rest of the country may not like their brand of basketball, but for most of the past decade, the Badgers have sold out just about every home game, so clearly Wisconsin-ites do.
"One team – one team stays above water at the end," Ryan said. "We haven't yet, but we like trying. Trying never gets old."
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