Timothy Ludwig/USA Today Sports

No.8 Wisconsin erases late seven-point deficit to knock off No.1 Villanova, 65-62, to advance to the Sweet 16

Showing as much resiliency as its had all season, No.8 Wisconsin made the critical plays late to upset overall No.1 seed Villanova, 65-62, in the second round of the N.C.A.A. tournament.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Looking to make a fourth straight Sweet 16, Wisconsin had to the defending national champions – and the tournament’s overall number one seed – on the ropes for the better part of the first half.

It was good enough to deliver the first major upset in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

A driving reverse lay-up by Nigel Hayes – complete with a little head fake – with 11.4 seconds left and a strip by Vitto Brown on national player of the year candidate Josh Hart proved critical in leading No.8 Wisconsin to a 65-62 victory over No.1 Villanova in the N.C.A.A. tournament second round at the KeyBank Center Saturday.

Hayes finished with 19 points, senior Bronson Koenig had 17, Ethan Happ had 12 and Brown added 10 for Wisconsin (27-9), which shot 54.2 percent in the second half to advance to the East Regional semifinals next Friday in New York City.

Hart scored 19 points for Villanova (32-4), which fell to 7-1 against the Big Ten conference the last five seasons.

The first half was a combination of factors for Wisconsin, which led by as much as 20-12 with 9:23 remaining. UW started 8-for-12 and finished 13-for-24 but went just 1-for-4 from the line and committed eight turnovers that led to 12 Nova points. 

Missing nine of their first 12 shots and 15 of its first 21, Villanova – the nation’s third most efficient offense - shot 29.6 percent in the first half got its first 17 points from a combination of Hart and Donte DiVincenzo (15 points), but the turnovers and going 7-for-10 from the free throw line kept the Wildcats in striking distance.

Wisconsin also survived without much of a low-post presence after Happ sat for the final 11:49 with two fouls. UW scored six points in the paint in its first six possessions but had only eight in the next 22.

In two N.C.A.A. tournament games, Happ has played less than 18 first-half minutes because of foul trouble. The only benefit was that the sophomore was fresh, scoring a pair of paint buckets prior to the first media timeout to give the Badgers a 37-33 lead with 16:12 remaining.

But with Happ back on the court, UW lost its senior leader. Koenig picked up his second and third foul and was forced to sit at 16:58, only to be called back into duty at 14:10 with the struggles of true freshman D’Mitrik Trice. Twenty-nine seconds later he was back on the bench after picking up his fourth on an offensive foul.

Villanova took the lead on the next possession – its first since the 13:10 mark of the first half – and looked poised to close the door, until Koenig returned at 5:43.

Koenig’s 3-pointer from the corner tied the game at 57 with 3:27 remaining and Happ’s driving layup on the next possession put the Badgers back in front 59-58.

After Eric Paschall split a pair of free throws, Koenig drained another 3-pointer – his third of the game – to put the Badgers up 62-59.

Villanova wouldn’t go quietly. Jalen Brunson (11 points) spin move on Zak Showalter in the paint gave him space to hit a left-handed lay-up cut the deficit to 62-61 with 1:39 remaining. Following a pair of empty possessions, Villanova’s trap on Koenig just past midcourt led to a turnover and free throw opportunities for DiVincenzo. The 70.9 percent free throw shooter went 1-for-2, tying the game with 36.4 seconds remaining.

That set the stage for some more March Wisconsin magic.

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