Wisconsin was discounted by many as the NCAA tournament commenced for a variety of reasons. They were ice cold and stumbled through the final stretch of the Big Ten regular season. They had just been slapped with the No. 8 seed by the committee. It was over.
But then it wasn't.
The Badgers were on the cusp of the Elite Eight before Florida’s Chris Chiozza snapped the hearts of Wisconsin fans everywhere with a improbable floating three-pointer to win the game as time expired in overtime.
Wisconsin’s backs were against the wall as the second half dwindled down to its final minutes, but a push from its three reliable seniors Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter carried the team into an overtime session.
Koenig was the point guard and leader of the team on the court. Despite having a sweet shooting stroke, Koenig remained committed to looking to find open teammates during his career as a Badger.
But when it was his time to score, Koenig didn't hesitate. Not only could he shoot from distance with ease, Koenig had the ability to beat his defender off the dribble on the wing, then stop on a dime and hit a mid-range.
While it is difficult to pick a single moment that most stood out in Koenig’s illustrious career in Madison, it would be remiss to look past last year’s installment of the big dance.
Tied at 63 in the Round of 32 against Xavier, Koenig caught an inbound pass from half court as his momentum carried him to his team’s bench. With one dribble, Koenig reached the corner and with a simple wrist flick, the ball found nothing but nylon and Wisconsin booked its third consecutive trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
Hayes began his collegiate career as a threat on the wing, but by the time it ended, he became more suited to play the mid-range game. Hayes essentially struggled for the majority of the regular season this year but all was forgotten by the time March came around.
Hayes looked as comfortable as he ever had taking defenders off the dribble and garnering and-one attempts at an impressive rate. When his defender backed off from him a bit, Hayes could rise up for a jump shot to keep them honest.
Like Koenig, Hayes’ most memorable moment came in the NCAA tournament. Earlier this month, in the Round of 32 game against No. 1 overall Villanova, Wisconsin scrapped its way to a tie game in the closing seconds despite playing the majority of the second half without Koenig or Ethan Happ.
While everyone assumed the ball would find the red-hot Koenig in the crucial possession, Hayes took matters into his own hands. He took the ball baseline, shimmied back over his right shoulder, then continued for a slippery reverse layup in traffic to give the Badgers just enough to scratch out the upset over the Wildcats.
Out of three senior starters, Showalter undoubtedly gets the least public attention. He’s one of those guys who just puts his head down and plays hard. Showalter was a premier defender during his tenure with Wisconsin, but his distance shooting emerged as one of the best strokes on the team.
Spoiler alert: Showalter’s biggest moment for the Badgers came in the NCAA tournament, too.
Just last week, in Wisconsin’s aforementioned devastating defeat to Florida, Showalter connected on a shot that isn't often mentioned because his team lost. With Wisconsin trailing 67-64 with four seconds remaining in regulation, Showalter received the inbounds pass from half court and went to work.
Koenig served as a decoy on the play, as he had suffered a leg injury just moments prior. Like a running back, Showalter lowered his shoulders and barreled into his defender and hoisted up a one-footed, running three-pointer. Swish. Cue the Aaron Rodgers belt.
The Wisconsin seniors accomplished a great deal during their stay in Madison and virtually solidified the program as one of the nation’s best.
To say the least, Koenig, Hayes and Showalter will be dearly missed.