Anaheim, Calif. • Sean Miller has been on Bo Ryan’s radar since the mid-1970s. That’s when the future Arizona coach came to Madison, Wis., for the first time at Ryan’s behest.
Miller was a 9-year-old hot shot point guard, and Ryan was a Wisconsin assistant looking for some juice to enliven a night designed to drum up interest in Badgers basketball. He called up Miller’s father, a coach who agreed to send his son from Beaver Falls, Pa., to help out.
O Wisconsin (29-7) vs. Arizona (33-4) at Anaheim, Calif.
Saturday, 6:49 p.m., TBS
The young Miller donned a Superman cape made by one of the coaches’ wives and showed off his ballhandling and shooting skills.
"Sean more than handled himself," Ryan recalled Friday. "He was great."
Ryan, a long-ago point guard himself, sees a lot of similarities in how he and Miller view basketball these days. Their teams — No. 2 seed Wisconsin and No. 1 seed Arizona — square off Saturday in the West Regional final, with a spot in the Final Four at stake.
Neither Ryan, who has 703 career victories, nor Miller, with 249 wins to his credit, has ever gotten that far.
"It’s hard to get to a Final Four," said Miller, who started his coaching career as a Badgers assistant in 1992. "You can be really good and not make it, both as a coach, a team and a player."
The Wildcats (33-4) have not advanced out of the regional in Anaheim in three previous tries, dating to 1998. With eight weeks at No. 1 and 21 straight victories during the season, they want to deliver for Miller, who has restored the program’s luster in his five years.
"What we have done during the season has validated how good we are," said 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski.
The Badgers (29-7) haven’t been to a Final Four since 2000, shortly before Ryan took over in Madison. They’ve reached just one regional final during 13 straight trips to the NCAA tournament, making it every year since Ryan assumed control of a program where he was an assistant from 1976-85.
He turned 69 earlier this week, and the team is feeling a sense of urgency to deliver for a coach, who in the words of guard Josh Gasser, is "getting up there."
"He deserves it," Gasser said. "We all want it and we all want it for him."
The only 1-2 matchup in the Elite Eight features two teams with similar defensive styles who rebound with abandon.
"We are tough, nasty and relentless," said Arizona freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The Badgers could say the same about themselves, but when asked how Arizona might describe them, Frank Kaminsky deadpanned, "White guys."
Arizona’s Tarczewski and Kaminsky, who had 19 points and six blocked shots in the Badgers’ semifinal win over Baylor, give each team a 7-foot center to make the inside game interesting.
"We’re looking to draw fouls and throw them off-balance a little bit with early foul trouble," said Ben Brust, Wisconsin’s leading career 3-point shooter.
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