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March 14, 2012MADISON -- Going into the selection show, they all had a feeling this might happen.
Bo Ryan, Sharif Chambliss, Freddie Owens, they all thought about the possibility. If Wisconsin and Montana ending up with the right seeds -- most likely Nos. 4 and 13 -- they could square off in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
So what did they do once those premonitions became reality?
"We probably talked 30 seconds after they called Montana's name," Chambliss said. "It was pretty interesting. And it'll be a fun game, obviously, for the two of us."
Chambliss and Owens -- both from Southeastern Wisconsin -- came out of high school at the same time, with the former going off to Penn State and the latter getting a scholarship to play close to home for the Badgers. For that reason, some believed the two might not get along.
But once they had met on the AAU circuit, the pair got along great. And after Chambliss returned to their home state to play his senior year at UW, he and Owens have been good friends ever since.
That friendship has led Chambliss, as well as his fellow assistant coaches, to pay closer attention to Montana this season than they otherwise might. Such familiarity could come in handy considering the short turnaround between the Selection Show on Sunday and the afternoon tip Thursday between the Badgers and Grizzlies.
"He always stays in touch, we text back and forth," Greg Gard said. "There hasn't been any texts here in the last 24 hours -- we'll probably have that all shut off until after the game.
"But he's doing it the right way. He's working hard, he knows that there aren't shortcuts in this profession, that you have to continue to work at it. Maintain good relationships, and be appreciative to people who have helped you along the way, and Freddie definitely has done that. He's grown as a person. He's a very good coach now and he had a bright future."
While Gard has not talked much with Owens since the matchup was announced, the Montana assistant coach has continued to exchange text messages with Chambliss.
The two were like roommates in college, and have remained in touch while both Owens and Chambliss pursue coaching careers. Their relationship includes plenty of good-natured ribbing, some of which Chambliss shared Monday afternoon standing on the Kohl Center court where they once were teammates.
"He still looks like Barry Bonds, and you can tell him I said that," Chambliss said with a big smile. "My first impression of him was those lips. And I know he's going to say something about my nose. But my first impression about Freddie was those lips. And he can tell you I said that.
"But he's very competitive in everything he does. This summer he was up here recruiting and he stopped in Madison. and I had a chance to beat him pretty good in tennis.
"He thought he was real good because his wife's ranked like No. 1 in the state of Montana. So I had a chance to do that and keep the competitive edge against him."
That competitiveness has continued this week, as well. And it will likely extend to the basketball court.
At one point while the two were talking between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon, Owens offered the idea of a direct exchange of game film between the two of them. Chambliss wasn't having it.
"I said, 'no', he couldn't get any," Chambliss recalled. "He's got to hustle and get it himself. This is my job. My job's on the line. We've got to win. So there goes that competitive edge again."
'How sweet it is'
Current Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser remembers it.
In fact, Owens is likely best remembered by most Wisconsin fans for his game-winning shot against Tulsa on March 22, 2003, to send the Badgers to the Sweet 16.
After trailing by 13 points with just four minutes to play, Ryan's squad went on a run. A big run. Reeling off 11 unanswered points, UW pulled within two points with 12 seconds left.
Down 60-58, Wisconsin set up a play in a timeout to get the ball to Devin Harris for the potential game-tying or game-winning shot. Instead, Owens got the ball and swished the biggest 3-pointer of his career.
"I just had a weird feeling, even though the play was drawn up for Devin," Owens told the Missoulian, in a story that ran Sunday before the Montana-Wisconsin matchup had even become official. "I had a strange feeling I would get open and it would come down to me taking a last shot.
"I made mental notes like, 'Hey, be ready to shoot. You've worked on this a lot. This is what you play for.' Once we got on the floor, Devin turned a corner through two guys and I happened to be wide open in the left corner and I was ready."
Owens also is remembered almost as much for his reaction as for the shot itself.
"Afterwards, Coach (Bo Ryan) was being interviewed on the floor and then they called me over," Freddie said. "I came over and planted a huge kiss on Coach's cheek.
"They give me crap about that to this day whenever I see them. It was just an exciting time."
Of course, as Chambliss pointed out, that's not the only thing Owens' friends like to give him a hard time about. But it's all in fun.
Once the ball tips Thursday at 12:10 p.m. MDT, the fun goes out the window. Then it will be all about winning and advancing.
"The fighting Freddies," Gard said, referring to the nickname the UW coaching staff had given to the Grizzlies this season.
"I'm happy for Freddie. We'll see how happy I am Thursday afternoon."