Tim Miles was recently asked to recall some particulars from a game that was played more than seven years ago.
“Oh, man,” the first-year Nebraska men’s basketball coach said. “That was two lifetimes ago.”
Miles paused, then proceeded to fire off details as if the game had occurred seven hours earlier, a sign of just how memorable of a moment it was for a man whose head coaching career includes 297 victories spread over five programs and 18 seasons.
When Miles leads the Cornhuskers into the Kohl Center tonight, he will try to do the same thing he did on that unforgettable day: lead a major underdog to a victory over a nationally ranked University of Wisconsin team that rarely loses at home.
The Badgers have won 91.4 percent of their home games under coach Bo Ryan, a remarkable record that includes a 90-7 mark against non-conference opponents. The defeat that sticks out the most came on Jan. 21, 2006, when Miles helped put North Dakota State on the map with a 62-55 victory over UW.
The Badgers entered that game with a 14-3 record and ranked No. 15 in the country. UW had won 27 consecutive home games against non-conference opponents.
North Dakota State entered with a 10-9 record and in the midst of a transition to the NCAA Division I level from Division II. The Bison, who were playing as an independent at the time, had lost a 67-65 heartbreaker two nights earlier to Utah Valley State on a putback at the buzzer.
Miles, his staff and a group of about 10 players who had made the trip for that Thursday night game in Orem, Utah, hopped on a commercial flight in Salt Lake City the next morning. It took them to Minneapolis, where the Bison caught a connecting flight to Madison and were joined by some teammates who had been bused in from the North Dakota State campus in Fargo.
On Friday evening, the Bison gathered at what was then called the MAC Sport Center in Verona for a walk-through practice because the Kohl Center was being used for a UW men’s hockey game.
“We didn’t practice very well and I’m just yelling at the guys in this health club,” Miles said. “There was like a seventh-grade girls game going on, and the parents are looking over like we’re insane.”
The Bison arrived at the Kohl Center the next morning for an 11:15 a.m. tipoff, the team’s third game in five days. What happened next was nothing less than amazing.
North Dakota State used a 26-3 run to build a double-digit lead before halftime. Miles remembers looking up at one point prior to halftime and seeing it was 11:59 a.m.
“I said to myself, ‘At the minimum, it’s been a hell of a morning. I don’t know how the second half is going to go, but it’s been a great morning,’ ” Miles recalled.
The clock never struck midnight — or noon, in this case — on the Cinderella Bison. UW rallied late, but North Dakota State redshirt freshman guard Ben Woodside made six free throws in the final 1 minute, 31 seconds to finish with a game-high 24 points.
The celebration that ensued on the eight-hour, 500-mile bus ride back to Fargo was epic for the Bison, who had two locals in the mix: assistant coach Saul Phillips, a Reedsburg native who played for Ryan at UW-Platteville and served as his director of basketball operations with the Badgers; and redshirt freshman guard Michael Nelson, a Madison Memorial product who finished with seven points.
“Nobody had been talking about Bison basketball,” said Miles, who led North Dakota State to a victory over then-No. 9 Marquette at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee the following year. “It was a really huge moment for our program, and one we were able to capitalize on.”
Miles is the first to admit that a perfect storm of events led to the upset.
The Badgers, who were in the midst of a bad week after losing key bench players Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma because of academic issues, shot a horrendous 22.2 percent from the field, missing 56 of their 72 attempts. UW star Alando Tucker was triple-teamed by the Bison when he got the ball in the paint and finished 2-for-18 from the field. The Badgers’ second-leading scorer, Kammron Taylor, was 6-for-24.
Miles left the Bison in 2007 for Colorado State, and was hired by Nebraska last March. When UW associate head coach Greg Gard was preparing a scouting report on Nebraska for Miles’ second game in the Big Ten in January, he pulled out film from 2006 North Dakota State game at the Kohl Center.
“I looked back at that game before we played them the first time to see if there was anything exotic,” Gard said. “There wasn’t. It was just a matter of we missed a lot of shots.”
The Badgers (19-8, 10-4 Big Ten), who moved up one spot to No. 16 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and two spots to No. 17 in the Associated Press poll on Monday, missed a lot of shots when they faced Miles and the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on Jan. 6. UW won 47-41 despite shooting 37.7 percent from the field, 23.5 percent from 3-point range and 23.1 percent from the free throw line.
Nebraska is coming off a 64-60 victory over visiting Iowa on Saturday in which the hosts rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit.
“Tim’s done a nice job of just finding ways to hang around and muddy things up,” Gard said. “They’ve been in a lot of games.”
Miles has done a great job of rebuilding programs at Mayville (N.D.) State, Southwest Minne sota State, North Dakota State and Colorado State. His latest project is a big one: Nebraska (13-14, 4-10) has never won an NCAA tournament game.
Then again, Miles has experience proving people wrong. His most recent trip to the Kohl Center proved that.
“The higher you go up, the harder it is because there’s fewer players who can help make a difference,” Miles said. “So that’s the challenge here, but we’ve got to figure it out.”