When Sam Dekker tried — and failed — to catch a pass with one hand the other night, Saul Phillips knew what would come next. The buzzer sounded. Another Badger entered the game. Dekker went to the bench. Bo Ryan followed him to his seat.

"Anybody who ever played for Bo knew what Bo was gonna tell him," said Phillips, who played for Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville and now is the head coach at North Dakota State. " 'Catch the ball with two hands!' There are a lot of people out there who've experienced the exact same message."

And now they're experiencing the exact same euphoria. Since Wisconsin's 64-63 overtime victory against Arizona sent the Badgers to the Final Four for the first time since 2000, much has been made of Ryan finally getting there, too. Right or wrong, it's been cast as validation for the coach, as though the demarcation between good and great was the scissor snipping down the nets after a regional final.

Ryan has downplayed the accomplishment. But to those who knew him back when he built an NCAA Division III program into a four-time national champion, it's huge.

"All of us from Platteville are proud of him," Phillips said. "It's as big of a deal to us as to his immediate family, because we've all known he was this good."

They're also proud to see Ryan has built Wisconsin's program in the same way as he did at Wisconsin-Platteville, where the Pioneers won four national championships in 15 years: tough, overlooked kids, precisely executing fundamentals as simple as the proper way to throw and catch the basketball. The Badgers begin each practice by practicing just that, and it could be a bunch of middle-schoolers learning the game.