The game was close throughout with each team never leading by more than single digits.
Wisconsin pulled ahead in the middle of the first half 20-12. Villanova battled back, but the Badgers led the majority of the half. A nice pull-back jumper from Bronson Koenig put the Badgers up by a score of 31-27 at the break. Koenig and Vitto Brown both had nine points. Foul trouble plagued Wisconsin in the first half and became a huge problem in the second half.
Koenig and Ethan Happ were plagued by foul trouble throughout the game. Koenig picked up his fourth foul early in the second half and spent nearly 11 minutes on the bench. Nigel Hayes kept Wisconsin only down five points when Koenig re-entered the game with around six minutes remaining.
That’s when Koenig, Happ and Hayes combined to take Wisconsin to the Sweet Sixteen.
All three players made timely shots late in the game, with the game-winner coming from Hayes on a jittery, stop-and-go drive with under a minute remaining. A desperation heave by Villanova wasn’t close at the end and the Badgers are moving on.
Let’s now take a look at what we learned from Wisconsin’s thrilling victory.
What We Learned:
1. Nigel Hayes Kept Wisconsin Close, And Then Won It
Hayes was just incredible today. The senior scored 19 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and was a general menace to Villanova all game long. His reverse layup game-winner was a classic Nigel Hayes move that Big Ten opponents have seen countless times.
His play with Koenig on the bench was almost just as important. Wisconsin was on the verge of letting the game get away with Koenig and Happ dealing with foul trouble, but Hayes’ play kept the Badgers within striking distance. When Koenig returned to the game, Wisconsin only trailed by five points. From there, Koenig could do his damage from distance and Wisconsin took down the defending champions.
Hayes has been criticized, fairly sometimes, for his play this season. The Preseason Player of the Year has struggled at times, especially during Wisconsin’s 4-4 stretch in February, but any lingering questions should be put to rest. He was special today and a main reason Wisconsin is still alive in this tournament.
2. Bronson Koenig Continues To Make Incredible Shots
We are at a point that any shot from Koenig with under five minutes remaining should be assumed good. Despite foul trouble and tough perimeter defense, Koenig still scored 17 points on 7-11 shooting. Nine of those points were from three-point range. Two of those three’s were some of Wisconsin’s biggest baskets of the day.
The first came a few minutes after Koenig came back back in with six minutes to play. Koenig got loose from Villanova defense and nailed a three-pointer to tie it at 57 with 3:28 to play. It was the first time Wisconsin was tied or in the lead in nearly 10 minutes.
The second shot came with just over two minutes remaining. Koenig was open in the corner and nailed a three to put Wisconsin up by two, 61-59.
His performance today, coupled with his 28 points on Thursday and his buzzer-beater last season, put him in the annuals of the all-time greats in Wisconsin’s NCAA Tournament history.
Hopefully he has more in store.
3. Wisconsin’s Path Is Wide Open Now
With Villanova’s loss, Wisconsin is in primed position for another Elite Eight.
The Badgers will play either the Virginia Cavaliers or the Florida Gators in the Sweet Sixteen. Virginia and Wisconsin play nearly identical styles of basketball, so that is a very winnable game. Florida is longer and more athletic, but if Wisconsin’s shooting is on, they can be beaten by three-point shooting.
Duke, probably the most talented team in the tournament, could loom in the Elite Eight, but there is still much basketball to be played. Wisconsin should feel confidence that they can play and beat anyone after this afternoon’s victory.
A game that will be remembered for a long time happened today in Buffalo. The no. 8-seed Wisconsin Badgers pulled off the upset over the defending national champion and no. 1-seed Villanova Wildcats. Nigel Hayes’ reverse layup with 14 seconds remaining was the eventual game-winner and Wisconsin is returning to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth year in a row.
Wisconsin will play the winner of Florida/Virginia and has a East region that is now open for takers. Given their recent tournament history and today’s result, it could be Wisconsin that seizes the opportunity.