One reason last year’s NCAA Tournament was so great was the sheer amount of upsets. Another major reason was the extreme competitiveness throughout the competition, from the First Four all the way to the final buzzer of the National Championship – as Villanova would know very well. Saturday, the No. 8 Badgers accomplished both by taking down the No. 1 overall Villanova Wildcats, the defending champions.
The Wisconsin-Villanova game falls in line with a recent history of incredible Badger upsets, including the infamous “38-1” game vs. Kentucky in 2015 and Bronson Koenig’s buzzer-beater to upset No. 2 Xavier in 2016. Here’s how Wisconsin secured their 65-62 win over Villanova on Saturday.
One characteristic the Wisconsin program is almost consistently known for is tough, lockdown defense. In the biggest upset of this year’s tournament thus far, Wisconsin’s formula for success was no different.
The Badgers held the Wildcats to just 62 points for the game, a whopping 15.6 points below their average of 77.6 per game. They also held Nova to 31 percent from deep, and just over 41 percent from the field for the game.
In the first half, Wisconsin kept starters Jalen Brunson, Mykal Bridges, and Darryl Reynolds scoreless. Bridges and Reynolds would finish with just two points combined, and Brunson would score 11, including going 0/4 from beyond the three-point line. Brunson, along with Hart and upstart redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo, were the only players for Villanova to score in double-digits.
Championship game hero Kris Jenkins also ended with just six points on a poor 2/9 from the field. His shooting woes had been a recent theme for the Wildcats.
The 62 point performance was Villanova’s fourth worst this season.
It might not be all steals and fast break dunks, but Wisconsin’s defense always comes to play during March Madness.
Coming into the season, this Wisconsin Badgers team was expected to be a legitimate national title contender, returning all five starters that included four seniors (plus the venerable Ethan Happ).
Today, everyone of those seniors stepped up, and the team’s success was no surprise.
Looking at the stat sheet, Zak Showalter scored just four points with two rebounds and an assist, but those stats don’t do his performance justice. Showalter played 38 minutes, and one of his two buckets ended a big Wildcat run in the second half. One can’t mention Showalter without defense, as he also had a huge block, and held the star guard Brunson to zero points in the first half. Showalter’s current game is largely comparable to that of 2015 Josh Gasser – another Badger player who almost never ran up numbers on the stat sheet (besides a memorable triple-double), but was crucial to winning big games.
Before the game, a clip of Vitto Brown singing “One Shining Moment” was shown on the CBS national broadcast. In the game, Brown would have even more shining moments. “3tto” jump started the Badgers in this one with an early three-pointer, one of three for the game. However, Brown shined the brightest in the closing seconds, where he played one of the most defining plays of his great career. Brown, along with Ethan Happ, stopped Hart on the drive that could have tied the game at 64. Then, Brown grabbed a strong board off the glass, and made a free throw to help give the Badgers their final margin of victory. Brown finished with 10 points on 3/6 shooting, with all three field goals beyond the three-point line.
It’s hard to have a Badger game in March without mentioning Bronson Koenig, and for the second game in a row, the La Crosse native did not disappoint. Koenig followed up his career-high 28-point performance Thursday night with 17 points on an incredibly efficient 7/11 from the field, shooting 50 percent from deep. If that wasn’t enough, “Klutch Koenig” did it all in just 27 minutes, battling foul trouble for much of the second half, which hurt Wisconsin’s offense in a major way. Koenig has been on the court for many of Wisconsin’s most crucial moments over the last few years, from filling in for the injured Traevon Jackson to hitting the buzzer-beater against Xavier. He didn’t disappoint today, and will be crucial if Wisconsin wants to make it even further in the tournament.
However, the biggest shot of the game belonged to fellow senior Nigel Hayes, who hit the game-winning reverse layup which ultimately gave the Badgers the lead and the win. If Koenig was great today, Hayes was nearly unstoppable, taking the game over just like he did against Virginia Tech. Hayes, who has endured a lot of criticism on and off the court, is the undeniable leader of this team, and continues to show it. The All-Big Ten performer finished with 19 points and eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end. Other than a few missed free throws, Hayes played just about as well as anyone could against the defending champs’ defense. If that all wasn’t enough, Hayes played nearly the whole game, sitting out for less than one minute. The NBA is in Hayes’ sights, but no one can question how much this tournament means to him.
“They can’t calculate heart, will to win, desire. They can’t put those into percentages,” Hayes stated after the classic game.
“We have those.”
That the Badgers do, and no one can question that.