The Season in Numbers
11-1: Big Ten record
20-3: Overall record
1004: Points scored in 23-game season (1st UW team to break 1,000 points)
536: Number of conference points scored in the season, a record at the time
15: Number of games won in a row
1: Other UW teams at that time that had won 20 games in a season (1915-16 team)
0: Other UW basketball teams to win a national championship
The story of the 1940-41 UW men’s basketball team remains one of the all-time great Badger success stories. Though they got off to a rough start, the team went on to break multiple school and conference records before clinching the NCAA final round—to this day, the only NCAA national championship title to be awarded to the men’s basketball team.
The team was coached by Harold “Bud” Foster, Wisconsin’s all-time “winningest” men’s basketball coach. Foster played for the Badgers in 1929 and 1930, earning honors as an All-Conference and All-American center, before coaching UW basketball for 25 years (1934-1959).
The Badgers started the season with a 3-2 record before losing their conference opener to Minnesota, and expectations for the season plummeted. But then the team kicked into gear, and they didn’t lose another game for the rest of the season. That 12-game winning streak culminated in UW’s first undisputed Big Ten championship since 1918.
Wisconsin had two breakout players during this outstanding season: John Kotz and Gene Englund. This was Englund’s last season with the Badgers, and he made the most of it. The All-American team captain set a Big Ten scoring record with 162 points, and was named the conference’s MVP of the year.
Kotz, a sophomore during the 1941 season, was voted outstanding player in the NCAA tournament. During the next two seasons at UW, Kotz continued to garner honors, leading the Big Ten in scoring in 1942, and graduating as UW’s career scoring leader with 841 points.
Wisconsin hosted the Eastern NCAA Regional Tournament that year. North Carolina was defeated by both Pittsburgh and Dartmouth, and UW beat first Dartmouth (51-50) then Pittsburgh (36-30). Wisconsin then matched up against Washington State for the NCAA finals on Saturday, March 29, 1941 in Kansas City. When Wisconsin won that game 39-34, it clinched the only NCAA championship title in school history.
Back in Madison, between 10-12,000 fans greeted the Badgers at the Northwestern railroad station (at Blair and Railroad Streets, now the corporate headquarters of Madison Gas & Electric) when they returned from Kansas City at 1:20 am Monday morning. House mothers even suspended rules and allowed female students to stay out for the event.