With Wisconsin down 57-50 with 5:16 remaining in the game, Greg Gard wisely called a timeout to calm the waters and try to stop Villanova’s growing momentum. Led by his senior class, the Badgers responded to Villanova’s run by going on a 15-5 run themselves to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year.
Out of the timeout Wisconsin responded with a layup by Nigel Hayes to cut the lead to five and started a run of four consecutive made shots from the field. Overall Wisconsin shot 6-for-9 after Gard called the timeout, as Bronson Koenig was responsible for eight points, Hayes had four points, Ethan Happ had two points and Vitto Brown had the final free throw to cap the game’s scoring.
In order for Wisconsin to keep pace with Villanova, the Badgers were going to need to turn in one their better shooting efforts. They certainly responded by finishing the game at 53.1 percent (26-for-49), their first game shooting above 50 percent since their January overtime win at Minnesota.
Wisconsin put four players in double figures with Hayes leading the way with 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting and tied for the team-high with eight rebounds. Koenig was second with 17 points on 7-for-11 from the field and 3-for-6 from three, Happ registered 12 and Brown finished with 10 (3-for-3 from 3-point range in the first half).
Staying active on offense and generating second chances was a critical element to Wisconsin maintaining a sustained rhythm. UW was able to win that battle of the boards with 12 rebounds that turned into 13 second-chance points. Hayes had a team-high five rebounds, two of which came at critical junctures. With just over two minutes to go, Hayes was struggling to finish around the rim, but his activeness in following his shot paid off. After having his second layup blocked by Nova’s Eric Paschall, Hayes was able to collect the loose ball and get it to Brown, who fed Koenig, who hit a cold-blooded 3-pointer to give Wisconsin a 62-59 lead.
Wisconsin’s offense was able to play at its pace, averaging 1.10 points per possession, but the Wildcats were able to force 14 turnovers that led to 19 points. Five different players for Wisconsin committed at least two turnovers, including three by Koenig and a dangerous one with 37 seconds left. If it wasn’t for Hayes’ foul, Nova would have had a fast break opportunity.
Like Wisconsin’s offense over the last five minutes of the game, its defense was able to put together the winning plays in order to complete the comeback. After holding Villanova to shoot 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) from the field in the first half, the Wildcats bucked their shooting woes by starting the half shooting 12-for-20 (60 percent) from the field.
Come crunch time, the Badgers held the Wildcats to 1-for-4 from the field and delivered two critical blocks - one by Happ and one by Hayes – to deny dribble penetration and points at the rim. Brown also came up with a critical steal with five seconds left to help Wisconsin seal the game, thanks to the assist of Happ walling off Josh Hart’s driving lane to the basket.
Brown was terrific with his points, three rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. He also made sure he boxed off Donte DiVincenzo after the UW senior missed his second free throw with just over three seconds left, making sure nobody could get off a clean look. That final act of aggressiveness was a snapshot of making sure the Wildcats couldn’t get comfortable on offense, as the Badgers held Villanova to 21-for-51 (41.2 percent) from the field and 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) from three.
Villanova put three players in double figures, led by Hart’s 19 points, but Hayes’ defense on national player of the year candidate was solid throughout. Hart finished the game 5-for-9 from the field, scored eight of his points from the free throw line and committed five of Villanova’s eight turnovers. Wisconsin was able to register four steals and turn those turnovers into 10 points.
DiVincenzo was second with 15 points and Jalen Brunson – Nova’s glue guy – scored all 11 of his points in the second half after being held to just one assist in the first half.
If there was one area where Wisconsin struggled on defense it was limiting second chances. Villanova finished the game with 11 offensive rebounds, as Wisconsin struggled to complete the defensive possession to limit Villanova to one shot per possession in the first half. After giving up 10 second-chance points in the first half, Wisconsin – with Happ back on the court - helped the Badgers hold VIllanova to two second chance points in the final 20 minutes.
In just 23 minutes, Happ nearly had a double-double to go along with three assists, two blocks and two steals.
It was an impressive game for Wisconsin when you consider they played the final 13+ minutes of the opening half without Happ because of foul trouble and only had Koenig for nine minutes in the second half because of foul issues, as he picked up his fourth foul with 13:41 remaining. With Koenig sitting for close to eight minutes, the Badgers saw the game go from tied at 37 to the Badgers down 57-50 soon after Koenig checked back in the game.
Despite being down two players in each half, the Badgers found a way thanks to others stepping up. The combination of Koenig and Brown in the first half provided what Wisconsin needed to take a lead into halftime, specifically Brown’s ability to knock down the three in the first half allowed Wisconsin to generate opportunities in the paint without Happ on the court. Wisconsin finished the game with 32 points in the paint, 18 coming in the second half.
The effectiveness inside helped the Badgers get to the free throw line, although the season-long struggles continued with the group finishing 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) from the line and 6-for-12 in the second half.
Wisconsin’s ability to stay patient on offense and not allow Villanova to speed them up on offense allowed the Badgers to settle for high quality shots. The Badgers’ shooting numbers reflect that as Wisconsin finished the game with 10 assists on 26 made field goals.
UW only got three points from its bench and saw the inexperienced players struggle. Iverson had the three points and had four rebounds but the sophomore had three turnovers. Trice’s inconsistent play forced Gard to put Koenig back in, resulting in him quickly getting his fourth foul, while Hill, Illikainen and Pritzl were scoreless in a combined 13 minutes.
In the end, UW relied on its veterans to knock off Goliath.
Game MVP: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.
Koenig was effective in the first half, shooting 4-for-6 from the field by finding driving lanes and create the separation he needed to get off his mid-range shot. Koenig’s shot right before halftime to put Wisconsin up four points was critical, but the senior’s ability to step up to win the game after sitting for a majority of the second half proved to be what Wisconsin needed to get to the finish line. Koenig hit two critical 3-pointers after Gard’s timeout, the first tying the game at 57 and the second giving UW the three-point lead with two minutes to go.
Playing a team-high 39 minutes, Hayes was able to build off of his successful game against Virginia Tech by staying active throughout and registering the game-winning reverse layup, using a head fake nicely to create the separation he needed in order to get a clean drive to the basket. Hayes finished the game with one assist but it was one Koenig’s first 3-pointer during UW’s comeback. Hayes also tied Happ to lead the team with eight rebounds and finished with one block and just one turnover.