Bit of a heartbreaker last night. When you sign up for sports in your life you know that the celebrations will come with heartbreaks. You know the euphoric joys come along with times of misery and sorrow. It's part of the agreement. I've always liked this quote from Bill Bradley, "The taste of of defeat has a richness of experience all its own."
Last night Wisconsin experienced that richness of defeat, in a spectacular fashion on the largest of stages in grandest of all venues. And the thing with agonizing losses in sports is I don't know if there's a good way to get over them. I don't know what to do with myself this morning. I've learned in the past that you just have to soak it all in and adjust. That's a loss that you'll never get over. Not only the loss or the fashion of the loss, but the opportunity that was missed out on. There are no easy games in the tournament but the only things standing between Wisconsin and the Final Four was 4 seconds and the South Carolina Gamecocks. A golden opportunity was there....and then it wasn't.
And there are a lot of things you wish could have went differently in a game like that. I wish Khalil Iverson dunks his breakaway layup that gets blocked. I wish Bronson Koenig doesn't get hurt at the end of regulation and could have been a factor in overtime. I wish someone would have picked up the ball on defense with four seconds left in the game. I wish in a game that was decided by one point the officials wouldn't have given Florida a free point to start overtime when their player fell out of bounds chasing a loose ball. I wish Wisconsin makes a couple more free throws here and there. I now wish Nigel Hayes misses his last free throw of the game.
But that's sports. Those things happen and you have to soak it all in and adjust. Those heartbreaking losses have a richness of experience all of their own. Beating an undefeated Kentucky team in the Final Four feels that much better when you suffer a loss like this. Bronson's game winning three pointer in the tournament last year against Xavier is a little sweeter when you also go through handing away a Sweet Sixteen game to Notre Dame. Taking down the number one overall seed in the tournament just to reach the Sweet Sixteen this year felt so good because you'd also felt the heartbreak of losing to Iowa at home one month earlier. These Badgers have given us a hell of a ride the past couple years. I can't wait to buckle in for some more rides in the future. Whether those rides lead me up or down, I'll be ready.
Getting screwed over in the National Championship game against Duke though.....never going to get over that one.
After an emotional loss like the one last night, you really feel for all the players on the losing end. But I feel especially bad for Nigel Hayes. He was four seconds away from continuing a truly great redemption story. After playing a large role in his Freshman and Sophomore season on Final Four teams, Nigel was the goat during the Badgers loss in the Sweet 16 his Junior year.
And not the "Greatest Of All Time" goat but the "pretty big mistake that falls on your shoulders" goat. Nigel had a pretty regrettable and avoidable turnover late in the Badgers loss last year against Notre Dame. It was mistake and turnover you wouldn't have expected a player of his caliber to make it that situation. And it lead to the Badgers losing a very winnable Sweet 16 game last season.
Fast-forward to this NCAA Tournament run and Nigel had been putting the Badgers on his back when needed. It was the effort you almost expected out of Nigel Hayes all season. I even touched on it earlier in the year in a Three Count, that Wisconsin had gotten "Solid Nigel" for most of the year but I was still waiting for "Spectacular Nigel" to arrive. Heading into tournament it looked like that was a version of Nigel we may not see this year but he gave us "Spectacular Nigel" during the NCAA Tournament.
He had 16 and 10 in the first round game against Virginia Tech. He followed that up with a 19 and 8 game against top seeded Villanova that also included a game-winning basket. And last night he finished with 22 and 6, and what appeared to be the game-winning basket again in overtime. And in all of those games, Nigel looked and played like the mismatch nightmare for teams that Badger fans were looking for all year.
Nigel isn't your typical college basketball player. He's opinionated. He's outspoken. He's comfortable going against the social norms we expect our athletes to follow. I probably don't have to give you a refresher on Nigel Hayes' college career on or off the court. But during the NCAA Tournament of his Senior season it felt like we were getting the "locked in, dominant college basketball player" version of Nigel Hayes. The Nigel Hayes Badger fans were looking for all season. The Nigel Hayes that was ready to redeem himself from last season's NCAA Tournament. The Nigel Hayes that was capable of leading his team to a Final Four rather than just being a key contributor to a Final Four team. And then it ended in four seconds, 70 some feet, and one floater.
Alright, enough about the Wisconsin game last night. I'm not sure I'd be emotionally stable enough to get a third topic on that game here. So let's focus on something a little more positive and up-lifting....WrestleMaina!
We are now single-digit days away from the greatest wrestling event of the year. WrestleMania 33 is next Sunday in Orlando, Florida. My idea for the Three Count this week was to preview one match a day leading up to the big event. But then I started preparing for that and realized there are so many matches on the card this year, it's unreal. You could add all the losses and technicals Fran McCaffery picked up this season and it still wouldn't reach the number of matches that will take place this year at WrestleMania. So I'm going to start that process today instead. One match a day on the Three Count until we get to WrestleMania. First match on the card: Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental Championship.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin
This sees like the perfect opportunity to get the title on Corbin and give him his first main run as a upper-tier guy. You can tell WWE sees money in him and this is a great place to feature him. He debuted on the main roster last year at WrestleMania as a surprise entrant into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which he ended up winning. And he's been riding that momentum for the past year. This year's WrestleMania would be a great time to bookend that run with his first championship. He's one of the true bad guys in WWE today, a championship win at WrestleMania would help further that image.
Winner: Baron Corbin