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Last ride

Penney gives Badgers a lift in final home game

Last Updated: March 6, 2003

Madison - The Bo Ryan edition of the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team has only experienced defeat twice in the Kohl Center. Wednesday night was not going to be No. 3.

Brian Cook and his boys from the University of Illinois tried admirably to crash Kirk Penney's farewell party, but with the Big Ten championship hanging in the balance, the lone Badger senior and his UW mates would not be denied.

"It's just an unbelievable feeling that we feel right now because we worked for so long," said Penney, who played all 40 minutes for the first time this season in helping the Badgers claim their first outright Big Ten title since 1947 and their first back-to-back conference titles since 1923 and '24. "We always said, 'We haven't won anything yet, we haven't won anything yet.' But now we have. Back-to-back Big Ten championships."

The floor-to-ceiling Kirk Penney love fest commenced during a pre-game ceremony honoring the New Zealand native, continued with sheets of paper donning his likeness in the student section and culminated with a post-victory shoulder ride courtesy of the fans and the obligatory cutting down of the net.

"I don't think words can express what that meant," Penney said after the Wisconsin fans hoisted him up above the rest of those who stormed the floor in celebration. "This is completely a team effort. Everyone of us has enjoyed the journey, whether it's been highs and lows or challenges and adversity, but here we are."

Penney's appreciation for the kind gestures didn't go unnoticed as he returned the favor by pouring in 14 points, including a three-pointer that found its mark from 3 feet beyond the arc at the start of the second half, launching the Badger faithful into a frenzy.

While he didn't have one of his more memorable offensive performances in his Kohl Center swan song, Penney did all of the little things - including diving into a row of photographers for a ball heading out of bounds - that made it clear as to what the senior guard means to this team.

Over the course of his career, Penney has steadily improved in virtually every statistical category. He capped the regular season with career-bests in points (16.4 per game), rebounds (six) and assists (3).

And now, after focusing so diligently on the task at hand, Penney finally allowed himself to reflect on what the last four years have meant to him.

"I've always been preparing for that mentally," Penney said of his final home game. "Just keeping your focus because it is emotional.

"You know walking in there it's the last time you're gonna do it, but for me it was almost a matter of just going through the routines of what I've done every home game the time I've been here and that certainly helped. Now, I guess, the emotion can come out a little bit."

Brett Longdin is the sports coordinator for Journal Interactive.