Four of the eight Sweet Sixteen games took place Thursday night, and in the Cleveland regional their two games were less than competitive. Notre Dame knocked off Wichita State with a great shooting night, and Kentucky dominated West Virginia in a way that is usually reserved for first round 1 vs. 16 games. However, out in LA we got to see two great teams get tested before they were able to get it together and win.
B1G Game of the Night: #1 Wisconsin vs. #4 UNC
North Carolina has played some big games this year, so they weren't afraid coming into this game, and it showed. The Tar Heels seemed to be in control most of the game, despite Wisconsin's ability to keep the score close. However, former walk-on Zak Showalter helped turn the tide off the bench for the Badgers midway through the second half. His six points helped wrestle the momentum away from UNC and despite two Marcus Paige triples Wisconsin was able to hang on by hitting their free throws en-route to a 79-72 victory.
Sam Dekker had one of his best statistical games as a Badger as he scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to complete the double-double. Teammate Frank Kaminsky didn't have a great game, he shot just 5-11 from the field, but he hit all 8 of his free throws and finished with 15 points and 8 boards. Nigel Hayes had an even worse night shooting, but did end up with 12 points and 6 rebounds. It is also worth mentioning that Traevon Jackson returned from injury, but saw limited minutes as is to be expected. For North Carolina, Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson led the team with 15 points each, while Paige added 12. Wisconsin now advances to take on the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight on Saturday, after they staged their own comeback on Thursday.
Non-B1G Game of the Night:
Of course the other good game of the night also came at the Staples Center, as Arizona and Xavier fought tooth and nail for the right to face Wisconsin in the regional final. In a match-up that played out extremely similarly to the Wiscy-UNC game, Xavier was in control of very tight game deep into the second half. But again, the favorite made a bit of a rally to steal the momentum with less than half of the second half to go. Arizona then also used good free throw shooting to salt the game away in the final minute, 68-60.
Arizona was led in scoring by guard T.J. McConnell with 17 points. He also added 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Kaleb Tarczewski had a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards, while teammate Stanley Johnson also added 12 points. The Musketeers were led by big man Matt Stainbrook in what would be his final game. He had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a double-double effort. Bloomington, Indiana-native Dee Davis scored 12 points and Jalen Reynolds matched his total coming off the bench. The Wildcats get their Elite Eight rematch with the Badgers on Saturday now, in what could be the best match-up of the whole tournament.