While getting to the Horizon League Championship game was no small step, securing an NCAA Tournament berth would certainly be a giant step for this program.
The Phoenix haven’t made it this far in their conference tournament since 1998 and the last time they clinched a bid in the bracket was in 1996. It’s something that every player – and coach, including Brian Wardle – thinks about.
“You dream about it. You think about it. If you don’t then I’d be a little concerned about you. That’s what I told my players,” Wardle asserted.
UW-Green was eliminated by Valparaiso in 2013 and were also unexpectedly upset last season which makes this chance even more special.
“We have a vision and we’re right there knocking on the door. We have to go out there and do it, we have to take it. Nothing is going to be handed to you, you have to take it,” the head coach said. “But there’s not doubt that we’ve all imagined it and thought about it.”
The Phoenix were loose and confident in shoot around earlier in the day, preparing as if it were any other game. Leading scorer Keifer Sykes even joked around and photobombed Wardle during his meeting with the media.
A Green Bay victory would mean a lot to many people, but especially Sykes himself. His focus, work-ethic and statistics make him one of the most prolific players to ever come through this program. He’s scored over two-thousand points – 2nd all-time in school history, earned Horizon League Player of the Year in back-to-back season, but leading a team to the NCAA Tournament would be a accolade atop all others.
“He wants it because he’s earned it. He’s put in a lot of time, dedication and preparation into this program,” Wardle said. “His legacy is pretty firm no matter what happens tonight. I think he’s had an unbelievable career. He’s definitely led this program to another level and there’s nothing I wouldn’t want more – or these players wouldn’t want more – is to send these seniors off the right way.”