Running Away from Elimination

Challenged by their head coach after an ugly 20 minutes of basketball, second-seed Wisconsin turned the momentum by the first media timeout, and continued scoring at a rapid pace to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 85-77 victory over seventh-seed Oregon.

MILWAUKEE - Staring elimination in the face and 20 minutes away from adding their team year to the growing list of NCAA tournament disappointments, Frank Kaminsky and other Wisconsin players were talking amongst one another and making adjustments before their head coach took center stage.

Kaminsky said Bo Ryan was his usual self in the locker room just minutes after getting his first bench warning, but the message he delivered stuck with the junior.

"He said, ‘How are you going to feel on the bus ride home?" Kaminsky said. "Was it going to be a good feeling or a bad feeling? I kind of played it in my mind what it would be like if we lost this game and I was on the bus ride home. I wanted it to be a happy feeling."

Safe to say the 90-minute bus ride was full of elation, especially considering what Wisconsin accomplished in the second half to get into the Sweet 16.

Battered and beaten by Oregon's style in the first 20 minutes, second-seeded Wisconsin recovered in the nick of time for an 85-77 victory at the Bradley Center Saturday night, its biggest comeback win of the season.

Kaminsky (19 points), Traevon Jackson (16), Josh Gasser (13), Ben Brust (12) and Sam Dekker (12) were all in double figures for Wisconsin (28-7), who shot 48.4 percent in the second half and 43.8 percent (7-16) from 3-point range.

"They've got great character," said UW assistant coach Gary Close. "They refuse to give up. They believe in one another. They believe in what we are doing."

Those numbers were built up by the foundation the Badgers created in the first 6:30, scoring on their first seven possessions and pounding the paint. It started with Jackson registered the old-fashioned three-point play and continued with Kaminsky on consecutive possessions, a two-pointer from Gasser and then a three from Gasser after Dekker drove into the lane.

Once lifeless and out-of-sorts, Wisconsin was within 55-54 and the energy was back in the building, which Gasser helped ignite with one simple emphatic point to some of the 18,206 fans in the partisan crowd screaming in the upper deck rafters as he raced toward the timeout huddle.

"The crowd was awesome," said Gasser. "At that moment, you know, we were obviously struggling then, down by double digits. Just to see the will of the crowd had, the energy they had for us, doing whatever they could to help us out."

Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard crunched the numbers in the jubilant locker room and could only smile. The Badgers – long known as a plodding, deliberant offense – scored 24 points on its first 11 possessions of the second half and 48 on 30 second-half possessions altogether.

"You're going to win a lot of games doing that," Gard deadpanned.

Those points couldn't have been more timely. UW's outburst out of the locker orchestrating a 17-6 run to cut the lead to one by the first media timeout, and scored 27 points on 13 possessions to eventually play with a lead for long stretches of the second half.

"We were just doing what we should have been doing all game," said Dekker. "That's just getting the ball inside and once you get it inside it opens up a whole lot of things."

Wisconsin had been in a similar situation 10 years prior on the same floor in almost the exact same situation. Seeded in Milwaukee in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and saw its fans pack the Bradley Center to the rafters, Wisconsin trailed by 13 points with 13:16 left to play before closing the game on a 36-8 run to outlast No.11-seed Richmond.

UW was ousted two days later following a 59-55 defeat to No.3 Pittsburgh, and this was heading in a similar direction.

Much like what American did in the first seven minutes with its style of play, Oregon's fast-paced tempo frustrated Wisconsin and caused a bevy of problems. The Badgers saw the Ducks shoot 55.6 percent from the floor and from 3-point range and score a glaring 19 fast-break points.

Even with their second-leading scorer Mike Moster on the bench for the final 16:22 of the first half, Oregon saw Joseph Young (17) and Jason Calliste (14) combined for 31 first half points.

That caused Ryan to ask Wisconsin if they were ready for the season to be over.

"He pretty much just asked us how good do we want to be," said Koenig. "Do we want to go home? He pretty much questioned our toughness. I thought we came out in the second half and came out with more toughness."

The response was evident, as Wisconsin held Oregon to 21 fewer points in the second half, which include zero fast break points, things that helped spur Wisconsin's offense to hit from the lane, the perimeter, the free throw line and score in virtually every way in between.

"I think we were getting embarrassed in the first half," said Gard. "So it was the pride factor that had to set in and say, ‘This is not who we are. We have 20 minutes to change this.'"

In a little over 48 hours, Wisconsin won against an American team with one of the slowest paces in college basketball and against one with one of the quickest, speaking to the versatility of its offense.

"We've played all sorts of team personalities this year," said Dekker. "We've played guys that slow it done and guys that run up and down the court. We just have to react to the situation in front of us. I think that only spells more value to what our coaching staff does. They get us ready for no matter who we are playing."

More importantly, it made for a better bus ride home.

"It's going to be a fun ride," said Kaminsky.


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