Wisconsin hasn't had much experience with playing from behind this season, commonly rolling throughout most of the season without much of a challenge from anyone from the Big Ten. On Thursday the Badgers faced a steady amount of adversity when their star center Frank Kaminsky got off to a slow start and the Badgers found themselves trailing a good portion of last night's game versus the Tar Heels.
While Wisconsin was down for a good chunk of the game, they kept the score within reach and around the six minute mark started off a quick 9-0 run highlighted by Zak Showalter. The sophomore, who has earned playing time as of late due to the injury issues with Traevon Jackson, added four points, an assist and a steal as he helped spark Wisconsin turn a four point deficit into a five point lead in about two minutes of game time. While North Carolina's Marcus Paige did everything in his power to keep it close, the Badgers would hold on to advance to the Elite Eight where they will square off against Arizona later this weekend.
So with that being said, what did we learn?
It doesn't always have to be the Frank Kaminsky Show
Early on in the action Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koening combined for 3 of 18 shooting from the field as the Badgers struggled to get going out of the gate. Even when everything was said and done the trio shot around 32%, considerably lower than the team's overall average of 46.4%. Luckily for the Badgers forward Sam Dekker brought his A-game, recording 23 points on 10 of 15 shooting while also adding 10 rebounds. Simply put, Dekker was the reason the Badgers were still alive throughout the night and kept things within reach until Kaminsky finally woke up. Even once Frank got it going, Dekker made numerous contributions on both sides of the ball to help propel Wisconsin to victory. While most of the hype and attention goes towards Kaminsky, if it weren't for Dekker's impressive night the Badgers would be heading back to Wisconsin disappointed once again.
Hayes and Koening need to have better nights from here on out
Nigel Hayes has blossomed in his sophomore season and Bronson Koening has done a commendable job holding down the fort while Jackson has been out, but last night was atrocious. The duo combined to shoot 5 of 20 from the field while a good portion of their points came from the charity stripe. Even more problematic was Koening got into foul trouble throughout the night, eventual fouling out, while Hayes struggled with poor shot selection the entire night. Even with Showalter stepping up off the bench and Kaminsky eventually getting it going in the second half, the hole dug by the duo might have been insurmountable if not for the herculean effort by Dekker. With possibly three games remaining, potentially coming against Arizona, Kentucky and Duke, these two will need to have better nights then they did yesterday. This Saturday if the Badgers want to get by Arizona it's going to need a team effort and that means Hayes and Koening need to bounce back quickly after two disastrous performances.
Zak Showalter isn't as big of a liability as once thought
There's been a lot of talk about the injury issues for Traevon Jackson and the need for him to return to action. On the flip side, though, a number of people thought Jackson missed too much time and that his return could mess with the Badgers chemistry, throwing the team off as they've learned to play without him for a good chunk of the season. The common consensus was the return of Jackson off the bench would be the best solution, as Jackson's play would be an improvement from sophomore Zak Showalter. Well last night the backup guard proved the naysayers wrong, holding his own in his eight minutes as starter Bronson Koening dealt with foul trouble. While only playing eight minutes Showalter added six points, four of which came during Wisconsin's 9-0 run to take control of the game in the closing minutes. Besides two huge buckets, he also set himself up on a transition layup thanks to a nice steal and had an assist on one of the two other field goals during the run. While Jackson came back tonight and hit his first field goal, he was a bit shaky after that. While Jackson is making progress, Showalter proved that he can hold his own when need be off the bench and might not be as big of a liability as some fans have made him out to be.
The Badgers weren't always pretty and could have easily lost tonight's game, but they still found a way to pull off the win. Winning a National Title requires a team to overcome adversity and find a variety of ways to win and the Badgers managed to achieve this last night. The team will need to see better nights from forwards Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hates going further but it's the NCAA Tournament and the whole "survive and advance" motto fits the bill perfectly here. Things are only going to get harder from here on out, but the Badgers once again found a way to pull it out and advance to the Elite Eight.