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MADISON - The big sports storyline around the University of Wisconsin campus in 1993 was about football, Pasadena and roses, as the football program was achieving levels of successes that hadn’t been around in decades.
Howard Moore and the rest of his men’s basketball teammates were caught up in the action, too. But along with cheering for the football team to make history, Badgers hoops were making a little bit of history of their own.
While Wisconsin was winning its first Rose Bowl, Badgers basketball just kept on winning, earning victories in its first 11 games to start the season to set a new program record in the modern era.
“I think that’s forgotten a little bit in the lore of Wisconsin basketball history,” said Moore. “It’s something you can’t dismiss.”
Wisconsin entered the 1993-94 season in the second season under Stu Jackson with only three winning seasons since 1968-69, and was coming off a 15-15 campaign that ended with a bitter 77-73 home loss to Rice in the first round of the NIT, Moore’s redshirt sophomore season.
“We were so hurt after that loss,” said Moore, currently in his fourth season as head coach at Illinois-Chicago. “You talk to anybody on the team and they’ll tell you that locker room was like a morgue. I remember guys being outwardly emotional that it was amazing. It was like a funeral. We felt like we had worked so hard to make it to the postseason and to have an opportunity to play at home, we were just distraught, crying and acting crazy.”
Wisconsin had feature components on its roster like Michael Finley and Tracy Webster, who were recruited by former coach Steve Yoder, not to mention role players like Moore, but now the group had a boost of energy from the disappointment that it had missing over the last several years.
With goals that included redemption in the postseason, Wisconsin scored over 103 points in four of its first eight games, but a 91-88 win at Texas Tech was the victory that still stands out.
“We were playing good basketball, and that was a huge win for us,” said Moore. “I just remember us all being on the same page and clicking. That was one of those breakout wins where we said if we can beat these guys at home, we can beat a lot of teams and make it to the tournament.”
Wisconsin won the next six games, including a win over a ranked Marquette squad at home, and the first two games of Big Ten play. Following a home win over Ohio State, Wisconsin was 11-0 and ranked 12th in the nation, its highest since 1963.
Despite going 8-10 in the Big Ten that season, the Badgers – thanks in part to a win over No.9 Purdue and No.3 Michigan later in the season - made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 47 years based off their start. UW also won a tournament game for the first time since that trip in 1947, putting basketball back on the map and back into the conversation.
“That year started the conversation of a Kohl Center,” said Moore. “Before we had that success, nobody was talking about a new facility. Nobody was event talking about renovating the field house. The conversation was, ‘Can you win?’ We proved that, and that’s where it started.”
Moore has seen the fruits of that team’s labor both from up close and from a far. Later as an assistant coach under Bo Ryan, Moore was on the bench for the longest streak in school history – a 17-game run during the 2006-07 season. That year is remembered for Wisconsin achieving the program’s first AP number one ranking in school history.
“It starts with the coach that’s keeping you having tunnel vision and not looking back, simply looking straight ahead at what’s next,” said Moore. “That’s Coach Ryan’s mantra as far as next, but that has to be your thought process. You also have to have a mature team that can stay focused and keep everyone else focused.
“When you look at those two teams, that was the consistent part. Alando Tucker, Kammron Taylor and Brian Butch were all mature players. When you look at Michael Finley, Tracy Webster, Andy Kilbride, all those guys that were on that team in 93-94, we were veterans. Rashad Griffin was only a freshman, but he was a big component of our success that year. It really made a difference in what you’re trying to get accomplished on a daily basis.”
It makes it all that more impressive to Moore that the Badgers are challenging those streaks with a team comprised of one scholarship senior. Wisconsin – up to fourth in the country – has a chance to tie Moore’s team when it goes for its 11th straight win to start the season tonight at the Kohl Center against Milwaukee.
Moore visited the team over the summer when Wisconsin was preparing for its Canada trip and noted the poise and team defense. When he watched the 59-53 victory over Florida, those same characteristics shined through.
“That’s the biggest key in what they’ve been doing is they’ve been defending,” said Moore. “Everyone puts a big emphasis on the tempo but knowing Bo, he always wants to play with tempo. It’s just a matter of what the other teams want to do and waiting for the best shot you can. They have good leadership and guys who get it, guys who understand what coach wants.”
Wisconsin’s final three nonconference opponents are all at home, meaning a lot of fans and pundits are pegging the Badgers to be 13-0 when it travels to Evanston, IL, for the conference opener at Northwestern.
And while Wisconsin’s first win on that 1993 team was a 22-point win over Milwaukee, Moore cautions fans overlooking a Panthers team that is 9-2, has already surpassed its win total from last season and has a head coach in Rob Jeter who knows Ryan as well as anyone.
“Robby has done a good job of retooling his team,” said Moore. “He saw where they were shorthanded last year and to have the type of year they had last year, I know Rob was happy with it. He obviously corrected the things that needed to be corrected and has put them in a position where he has them rolling a little bit. If you’re Wisconsin, you’re looking at that as a tough game and one you need to be prepared for.”
And if he knows anything about Ryan, Moore is confident that overconfidence won’t be a factor.
“If I know Coach, he will have them focused and ready to go,” said Moore. “They can keep their focus on playing their best basketball against a good Milwaukee team … It’s all about putting your nose to the grind, taking care of things you can control and leaving it at that.
"Our team was special, but records were made to be broken, and this (Wisconsin) team is breaking a lot of them."