There is a way to be disappointed while also being gracious. There is an opportunity for sadness to mingle with genuine congratulations for your opponent in a well-fought game. Sometimes it is difficult in the aftermath of a tough loss. But it is still possible.
As such, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s postgame comments after the Badgers’ 68-63 loss to Duke on Monday were illuminating. Sure, Duke shot 20 free throws while Wisconsin shot just 10. But total fouls were pretty close: 15 for the Badgers, 13 for Duke. Jahlil Okafor, one of Duke’s best players, spent much of the game in foul trouble. Justise Winslow also finished with four fouls. No Wisconsin starter had more than three. Officiating wasn’t the difference in the game. Duke’s ability to come back from a nine-point second-half deficit was the difference.
Ryan was probably angry about that. With a national title that close, the Badgers couldn’t close the deal. He could have expressed that postgame. Instead, he chose to gripe. Per the official transcript, here was Ryan’s opening statement:
What a fantastic job these guys did all year. They just came together to do all the things that they accomplished. Highest offensive efficiency. A team that committed the least number of fouls during the year. A team that got to the free-throw line. So these guys played 30-some games that way. It’s just unfortunate that this one had to be played out that way.
No mention of Duke or congratulations. A quick reflection on the season that was for Wisconsin, which is expected and good. And then straight into a complaint, albeit slightly veiled, about how the game was called.
Players were far more gracious. Josh Gasser called Duke a great defensive team and said the Badgers simply “didn’t get it done offensively. We fouled too much the second half. They were just driving it hard.”
Then we got back to the questions for Ryan. And this is what happened:
Q. You have gone all year without fouling. Were you surprised or particularly upset with the officiating that you got called so much?
COACH RYAN: You can’t say anything about the officiating. C’mon. Are you trying to set me up? So you want to reword that or… What are you saying?
Q. Just asking the question.
COACH RYAN: I don’t know what the question was.
Q. Did you take issue with the officiating?
COACH RYAN: Have you ever watched me during a game? I don’t think this was any different. No, we have these things that we practice, okay? We practice in our practices where if an offensive player jumps into you, we always call it on the offensive player. It’s just what we do. So there were some situations where obviously our guys felt they were in position.
Ryan did go on to say Wisconsin has had games like that before and has made adjustments. Later, he credited the Badgers players over the course of the season with “playing defense with their feet. Things like that. Not their hands. Sometimes hands are allowed more than others. You know how the game goes.” And he said of senior Frank Kaminsky, “He was getting banged around like crazy. I was kind of hoping he’d get to the line a little more. It just wasn’t the way it worked out.”
That’s a lot of excuse-making. Either Duke was flat-out a better team than Wisconsin or happened to be better on Monday. That was the difference in the game — not the officiating. But Ryan spent a lot of time on the latter and close to zero seconds acknowledging the former.