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.
The young Miller donned a Superman cape made by a coach's wife and showed off his ball-handling 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 Arizona — meet tonight in the West Region final, with a spot in the Final Four at stake.
Neither Ryan, who has 703 career victories, nor Miller (249) has 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."
Miller, 45, has restored the program's luster in his five years. The Wildcats won a tough game Thursday against San Diego State, 70-64, with Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson scoring all of his 15 in the final 2:44.
Ryan turned 69 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, F Frank Kaminsky deadpanned, "White guys."
see no evil: Waiting around to play a game can be tough on the nerves. With so many of his highly regarded freshmen finally fulfilling their promise, Kentucky coach John Calipari has been worried more about egos. On Thursday he instructed his young Wildcats that when they were in their hotel rooms, he would rather they stare at blank walls than hear about how good they've become. "Don't watch any TV," Calipari said. "Watch the History Channel, watch Biography, watch the military channel, watch movies and don't read anything, don't look at anything."
no comment: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was raised in Louisville, got a bachelor's degree there, and by most accounts is a rabid Cardinals fan. But he got his law degree from Kentucky. Asked who he was rooting for in Friday night's Louisville-Kentucky game, he drew laughs with his answer: "You know, I didn't get this far in my line of work by answering questions like that. That is the hottest issue in our state."