Several thousand fans dressed overwhelmingly in Wisconsin red welcomed home their beloved Badgers on Sunday to deafening cheers and lauded them like conquering heroes for advancing to the Final Four.
"I just wish we could take this and put it into about 100,000 pieces and give every fan" a piece, said coach Bo Ryan, gesturing to the trophy the team received for winning the NCAA tournament's West Regional. The second-seeded Badgers took a 64-63 overtime thriller against top-seeded Arizona on Saturday night in Anaheim, Calif.
Next stop: a date in the national semifinals next weekend at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"Do I get to go to Dallas with you? Can the coaches go?" Ryan asked his team jokingly in front of the crowd. With people in the stands snapping pictures on their smartphones, the players gave their approval—not that Ryan needed it.
"I guess we're going. I guess we're all going."
There were high expectations for Wisconsin when the season began in November, but few people outside of the Badgers' locker room probably thought the team would get this far into the NCAA tournament.
But strong defense and a breakout performance by jump-shooting center Frank Kaminsky has the Badgers thinking this season can get even sweeter.
With a piece of the championship net tied into his new commemorative hat, the 7-footer took out his phone and recorded a video he posted on Instagram of the raucous scene on stage.
Nope, it hasn't sunk in yet.
"It's your whole life playing basketball, you know," Kaminsky said. "Going into the Final Four is what everyone talks about for the college basketball season. It's too hard to describe so I'm not even going to try."
Teammate Ben Brust joked that Kaminsky's back might be hurting after all the moves he put on Arizona defenders to get some of his 28 points and 11 rebounds.
"Obviously I'm tired, it was a long game yesterday, long day of traveling," Kaminsky said. "Looking forward to some rest."
Not for long—practice resumes Monday afternoon.
Until then the Badgers will relish their regional championship that has turned them into Wisconsin rock stars. Heck, even Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is riding shotgun to the Badgers right now after crashing the jubilant team's locker room parties in Anaheim, Calif.
If Wisconsin residents aren't backing the Badgers yet, they're surely at least talking about them. Well, maybe except for the loyal followers of in-state rival Marquette.
"Our slogan is, 'Why not us?'" Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said. "Why can't we finish this thing off? Why can't we win two more games?"
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP