How Sweet (Sixteen)

Badgers advance to an NCAA Tournament Regional semifinal for the second time in three seasons

OKLAHOMA CITY — Moments after defeating Bucknell here Sunday evening, the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team knew little about North Carolina State and even less about Syracuse, N.Y.

What the Badgers knew was that they were excited to have made it through two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. After dispatching 11th seeded Northern Iowa Friday night and the 14th seeded Bison Sunday, No. 6 seed UW (24-8 overall) earned a spot in the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen, with a Syracuse Regional semifinal matchup with No. 10 seed NC State on tap for Friday.

"It is better than losing and going to sit up in Madison," senior guard Sharif Chambliss said. "No, we ain't going to do that. We are going to get ready to play basketball on spring break. That is a great spring break."

"Everybody's happy," sophomore forward Alando Tucker said. "We are going to celebrate tonight, but once we step back out on the practice floor we have to get focused on our next opponent."

The Badgers locker room was more subdued Sunday night than it was after the team's opening round win over Northern Iowa, but sophomore guard Kammron Taylor, whose second-half 3-pointer sparked an 11-3 run, could not contain his excitement.

"I was like [chest] bumping ‘Tuck' [Alando Tucker] and just laughing and I was just jumping into big guys' arms," Taylor said. "It is just a great feeling right now."

His coaches, and his more veteran teammates, who made a trip to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago (a 63-57 loss to Kentucky), calmed Taylor's youthful exuberance.

"Coach is telling me not to get too excited because we still have a game coming up Friday," Taylor said. "I know the guys are going to enjoy tonight… Coach is telling us we're in it to win it. And only 16 teams get to go to practice tomorrow."

The Badgers feel they have unfinished business, which they hope to take care of in Syracuse, even if they have not frequented that corner of the country.

"I know they've got a university," Chambliss said. "The University of Syracuse. That's about all."

"I don't think I've ever visited [Syracuse]," senior guard Clayton Hanson said.

"I've only been to New York once and that was to go to the Bronx," Taylor said. "I've never been to Syracuse before.

"I heard Syracuse was like, in the middle of nowhere."

UW has plenty to be proud of as it prepares for the Wolfpack this week. The prevailing wisdom before this season and before this tournament did not have the Badgers making it this far (let alone winning 24 games in the season, one victory shy of the program record set last year). Not after the Big Ten's best player, Devin Harris, left early for the NBA, and the Badgers' top perimeter defender, starting guard Boo Wade, left the team for personal reasons, leaving UW with one returning starter this season.

That returning starter, Mike Wilkinson, came into Sunday's affair having scored just 24 points in his last three games. He notched a team best 23 against Bucknell, leading his team to a trip to upstate New York and the Sweet Sixteen.

"It's just a great situation for obviously this team, the coaching staff and the program," Chambliss said. "It was a great win for the program."

Moons aligning for UW?

Wisconsin's players and coaches will insist that they give every team the same level of respect, but the perception has to be that the Badgers are receiving some helpful breaks.

After beating 11th seed Northern Iowa Friday, UW faced 14th seed Bucknell Sunday because the Bison upset No. 3 seed Kansas 64-63 Friday, on Chris McNaughton's bank shot with 10.5 seconds left.

No. 10 seed North Carolina State gutted out a dramatic 65-62 win over No. 2 seed and hitherto defending national champion Connecticut Sunday afternoon. Like Kansas two nights earlier, UConn had the last shot, but it was off the mark, preserving an upset win.

So, the seeds of Wisconsin's first three opponents stack up as follows: 11, 14, 10. A double digit seeding certainly does not imply pushover — Northern Iowa and Bucknell gave the Badgers quite a run and North Carolina State is a good team from the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference. But those not lacing them up can be excused for feeling that these matchups are favoring UW.

Said Taylor: "We know they are a pretty good team so we are going to approach this like any other game and not take it lightly because we are trying to move on."


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