Wisconsin marches on after a stunning 66-63 upset over No.2 Xavier in the N.C.A.A. tournament second round

BadgerNation analyzes the game and hands out the grades from No.7 Wisconsin's 66-63 victory over No.2 Xavier at St. Louis' Scottrade Center Sunday.

Offense: B

Over the last four games, Bronson Koenig had only made a combined five 3-pointers on 20 attempts. He certainly chose the right time to get out of his funk from the perimeter. Despite missing his first two attempts, Koenig shook off his shooting struggles by making a career-high six 3-point buckets; his last two couldn’t have come at a better time.

The game-winning shot from the corner will be talked about for eons but it wouldn’t have occurred if Koenig didn’t first tie the game at 63 with 11.7 seconds to go in the game. The first three by Koenig wasn’t easy by any stretch, a contested one coming from NBA range, but his game-winning shot was equally impressive. Getting the basketball off a curl on the inbounds play, Koenig took one dribble, squared himself to the basket – despite being off balanced – and elevated over the defender to get a good enough shot off.

Although Koenig finished 6-for-12 from 3-point range, the rest of Wisconsin struggled to hit from the perimeter. A total of seven players for Wisconsin attempted a three against Xavier’s defense but Vitto Brown was the only other UW player outside Koenig to connect from three (2-for-5). Brown went 2-for-4 from the perimeter (4-for-7 overall) in the first half to score 10 points but managed only two in the second half due to foul trouble. Wisconsin finished the game 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) from three against Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone.

Although the Badgers went on small scoring droughts during the game. Wisconsin was able to find a way to keep pace with Xavier throughout the game and stay within striking distance, never trailing by more than nine. Able to bounce back from its poor shooting performance against Pittsburgh, Wisconsin finished the game 25-for-59 (42.4 percent) from the field.

Koenig’s six 3-pointers helped him lead the team in scoring with 20 points (6-for-15 from the field). As good as Koenig was late, Ethan Happ was consistent from start to finish with 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field.

Not only did Brown only play nine minutes in the second half, he struggled to take care of the ball with four of Wisconsin’s 12 turnovers. Xavier converted Wisconsin’s errors into 11 points. There were a couple of instances where Brown was out on the top of the perimeter and tried to make an entry pass inside but didn’t read the play correctly, resulting in one of Xavier’s players easily jumping the pass.

Defense: A

After putting together an impressive defensive effort against Pittsburgh in the first round, Wisconsin needed to put together a similar – if not better - effort against Xavier. Like they have done all season, Wisconsin was able to find a way to slow Xavier’s offense down, holding them more than 17 points below its 80.7 points per game average.

The Badgers achieved this in part by not letting Trevon Bluiett get into a rhythm. The sophomore had scored in double figures in nine straight games but Wisconsin held Bluiett to seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. The backcourt for Wisconsin made sure he never was able to get comfortable on offense and make him work for every shot he took.

Three players for Xavier were able to reach double figures, with Jalen Reynolds (6-for-7, 5-for-5 second half) and Remy Abell (3-for-9) leading Xavier with 13 points apiece. Edmond Sumner was third with 11 points (4-for-13), as the Musketeers finished the game shooting 22-for-54 (40.7 percent) from the field.

Wisconsin’s defense struggled to string stops together until it was down six with 4:22 remaining. From that point forward, the defense was able to step up in a big way by holding Xavier to 1-for-5 from the field. There was no bigger defensive stop in the game than the charge Zak Showalter (four points) drew on Sumner with five seconds left in the game. Able to move his feet and be in good defensive positioning when Sumner lowered his shoulder, Showalter’s heady play gave Wisconsin the chance to close the game out in regulation.

Showalter’s drawn charge was one of eight Xavier turnovers that the Badgers converted into 10 points. Wisconsin was able to register three steals in the game. Happ’s lone steal didn’t come until the second half but resulted in a made layup by Showalter to help cut Xavier’s lead to 59-55.

The one area where Wisconsin struggled on defense it was that the Badgers weren’t able to limit post touches. Xavier finished the game with 30 points in the paint, success that limited them to only 5-for-16 (31.2 percent) from three. But when Xavier missed a shot, Wisconsin was the more aggressive team and found a way to limit Xavier to five offensive rebounds, resulting in seven second chance points.  

Overall: A

It seemed like the game was slowly starting to slip away when the Badgers were down nine with 6:19 remaining. But like they have all season, Wisconsin was able to fight back in the game and give themselves a chance to win by making the critical plays down the stretch.

Over the final 6:19, Wisconsin went 5-for-8 from the field and 5-for-6 from the free throw line. In that same stretch Wisconsin’s defense was able to force three of Xavier’s eight turnovers, including one possession where Happ was able to block a Sumner layup with 1:52 to go in the game. The ball fell into the hands of Hayes, who drew a foul and went 1-for-2 from the line to cut Xavier’s lead to one point.

While Koenig was able to get his shot back in order, Hayes continues to struggle from the field. He finished the game with six points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. Hayes came out aggressive to begin the game but could never get anything going on offense. However, his defense on Bluiett was stellar, he tied for the team lead with three assists and had a team-high eight rebounds to give UW a 38-36 edge on the boards.

After doing a good job defending without fouling against Pittsburgh, Wisconsin was whistled for 21 fouls Sunday, resulting in Xavier going 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line. The entire starting frontcourt dealt with foul trouble, as Hayes and Brown each had four fouls and Happ had three. Picking up his third foul with 17:45 remaining in the game, Happ took a short rest and came back to play 13 foul-free minutes, critical for UW down the stretch.

With Wisconsin dealing with foul trouble, head coach Greg Gard had to be able to rely on his bench. Despite the struggles recently, the group was able to play a strong 47 minutes, scored six points and delivered strong defense. Khalil Iverson delivered three of UW’s six blocks, including delivering a tremendous dunk off one of them after grabbing the deflection and racing down court. Wisconsin’s bench also was able to combine for seven rebounds, four assists, and one steal.

Game MVP: Bronson Koenig. Happ played another solid game, but when the Badgers needed someone to step up, Koenig was able to answer the call with two dagger 3-pointers in the final 12 seconds. It was clear throughout the game that the junior, despite his recent struggles, never lost confidence in his shot and continued firing when good looks presented itself. Koenig was responsible for scoring eight of Wisconsin’s final 17 points of the game. He also finished the game with seven rebounds (six defensive), one assist ant two turnovers. 

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