The sixth-seeded University of Wisconsin men's basketball team survived 11th seed Northern Iowa's comeback bid Friday evening, with clutch free throws, stout defense, strong backcourt play and just enough offensive firepower to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 57-52 win at the Ford Center here.
The Badgers, who improved to 23-8 overall with the victory, will face Bucknell (23-9) at approximately 3:50 p.m. Sunday. The 14th-seeded Bison upset No. 3 Kansas with a dramatic 64-63 win Friday night.
Wisconsin led its game from start to finish, jumped out to a 26-10 lead in the first half and led by as many as 12 in the second half, but when Kammron Taylor stepped to the free throw line with 13.9 seconds left that lead had shrunk to 53-48.
Taylor's front end of a one-and-one was off the mark, opening the door yet again for a UNI team that had been scratching on the edge of an upset since drawing within 40-36 with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Moments after Taylor's miss, freshman forward Eric Coleman converted for the Panthers, making it 53-50 with 4.4 seconds left.
Taylor then drew a foul in the backcourt with 3.2 seconds left. This time he made both free throws, providing UW with the all-important two-possession edge, 55-50.
"I was kind of mad at myself for missing that first one," Taylor said. "I had to make up for it."
After a UNI timeout, Taylor stole a long inbound pass and drew another foul behind the timeline. With 2.4 seconds left he confidently stepped to the line and made two more free throws, icing the victory.
"He seemed a little more calm when he knocked down the last couple," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "That was a welcome sign because we needed that. We had to stop the bleeding."
Ben Jacobson, who led all scorers with 20 points, hit a harmless jumper to close out the scoring. In between, Jacobson and the Panthers missed numerous opportunities to complete their comeback, and the Badgers refused to buckle.
"Man up," UW senior guard Sharif Chambliss said of the Badgers' response to UNI's comeback. "It's time to play basketball. You've got to go out there, you've got to get your own no matter what. We ain't going home right now."
Wisconsin took a 38-26 lead about three and a half minutes into the second half, on Mike Wilkinson's 3-pointer.
The Badgers, though, then embarked on a 7-minute, 36-second drought without a field goal. They only scored two points during the stretch: a pair of Alando Tucker free throws with 13:27 left to play.
In that stretch UW missed five shot attempts and turned the ball over four times.
As a result, UNI was able to close the gap to 40-36 on Eric Crawford's 3-point play at the 9:40 mark in the second half.
"The guys executed what we wanted," UNI coach Greg McDermott said. "It takes character to do that when you were down 16; that execution gave us a chance to win the game. I have no regrets."
Just when the Badgers looked on the brink of collapse, however, they found their shooting stroke in the form of a 3-pointers from Taylor, who led UW with 16 points, and a pair of triples from Chambliss, who finished with 15.
Chambliss' 3 with 6:23 remaining — his fifth made triple in the game — gave UW a 49-42 edge.
"When they cut the lead down, you've got to step back up and extend that lead," Chambliss said.
Jacobson, though, answered with a triple of his own to make it 49-45. After Mike Wilkinson scored off a nifty pass from Zach Morley, UNI crowd favorite Chris Foster knocked down a triple to draw the Panthers within a single possession, at 51-48.
Neither team would score for the next three minutes. Chambliss missed a jumper that could have extended UW's lead and Coleman missed two free throws that could have drawn UNI within one.
Jacobson grabbed an offensive rebound off Coleman's second miss, but he then missed a triple with 3:20 left.
Tucker missed a jumper, but Jacobson turned it over at the UNI end.
On UW's next possession, Coleman snuck up behind Tucker on a double team and picked his pocket, but Foster's jumper with about 1:45 left to play rolled around the rim and came out, keeping the scoreboard frozen at 51-48.
The score finally turned with about a minute left to play. UW's Taylor cut off Mike Wilkinson's screen at the high post and pulled up from near the free throw line, knocking down the jumper to give UW a 53-48 edge.
"Coach was in the huddle talking about when the shot clock runs down he wants us to run a ‘5' with me and Mike," Taylor said. "They didn't cover it that well and I saw the lane… I just stopped and popped."
Coleman's jumper with 4.4 seconds left snapped a four-minute drought for UNI and Taylor's free throws than preserved the Badgers' win.