NEW YORK — Sometimes, when you experience extreme amounts of luck, passion and tradition, things tend to work out. Other times, there’s just not enough in the tank. For all of the incredible moments the Wisconsin men’s basketball team has had both this season and in the recent past, they couldn’t have foreseen an off-balance three-point game winning buzzer beater in overtime, as No. 4 Florida knocked off the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers, 84-83.
Chris Chiozza was the hero for Florida in what was hands down the best game of the tournament thus far.
(Warning: the following video might make you really sad.)
Things weren’t all bad the whole game, though.
In fact, things got off to a great start for the Badgers in this one. After KeVaughn Allen kicked off the scoring for Florida, senior Vitto Brown knocked down a three from the top of the key, something that the Badgers have been missing for much of the season.
Devin Robinson scored early for the Gators, but Brown answered back with a two of his own. Then, things really got going for the Badgers, as Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes would get in on the long-range affair, and Ethan Happ would make a three-point play, the old-fashioned way.
Wisconsin started the game 6/8 from the field, and led 16-6 about seven minutes in.
After Brown got the Badgers going, Hayes got hot. The All-Big Ten senior missed his first two shots, but then hit four jumpers in a row, including a ridiculous shot beyond the free-throw line, while getting fouled.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it wasn’t all pretty for Hayes, who missed all three of his free-throw attempts and picked up two offensive fouls, forcing him to the bench with 4:25 left in the first half, and the Badgers leading 27-20.
Brown hit another three, but a surprise bonus for UW came from redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl, who played some terrific minutes on the defensive end, forcing two turnovers on Florida.
Other than Pritzl’s defense, not much else went very well in the last few minutes for the Badgers.
Allen got hot for the Gators, scoring 15 points in the first half, and Wisconsin suffered a five and a half minute stretch without a field goal. After leading by double digits and everything looking smooth for Wisconsin, the No. 8 seed in the East region trailed to the Gators, 34-32.
What really killed Wisconsin in the first half, other than the obvious loss of Hayes, was free throw shooting. The Badgers only made 50% of their attempts for four points, while they also fouled Florida on two three-pointers, equaling six total from the line for the Gators.
The second half didn’t start off well for the Badgers, either. After leading 34-32 at the break, Florida went on an 11-7 run on just five possessions, and extended their lead to 45-39.
The next four minutes were much better for Wisconsin. Although they only closed the gap by two, their defense improved immensely, highlighted by a terrific Iverson block. Also, Koenig hit a couple tough shots as well.
In the following minutes, Happ, who looked much better, would pick up his third and fourth fouls and would be placed on the bench. To make matters worse, Brown would foul out with over seven minutes left in the game, and his team trailing 64-56.
With Happ back in and Showalter coming up big in crunch time with a couple tough buckets, the Badgers would trim the deficit to 72-67 with 1:29 left after a deep Koenig three.
After two incredible stops, the Badgers would tie it at 72. None other than Zak Showalter hit a three with 2.5 seconds left, did the belt to Aaron Rodgers, and the game went to overtime.
Badgers everywhere were elated. This looked like the storybook ending we were used to.
Wisconsin was able to build an 81-77 lead off of Happ and Showalter buckets, but Florida would tie it with a little over 20 seconds left in the extra period. Hayes made two free throws on the other end, before the inbounds to Chiozza that would complete the storybook ending for the Florida Gators.
The worst part about the game was that for four of the most integral players on the court, it was their last game as Badgers. Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter, Vitto Brown, and Bronson Koenig all finished their Wisconsin careers tonight as perhaps the most accomplished class of all time.
Koenig finished with 13 points on 4/13 shooting, to go along with three rebounds and two assists. Despite incurring a leg injury as regulation expired, he played most of the overtime period.
“I’m proud of how we fought, how we fought all year,” said Koenig. “We showed how resilient we were, and I’m proud of this team.”
Brown, who fouled out early in the overtime period, finished with 10 points, two rebounds and three assists. He played critical minutes in both halves.
Showalter, a former walk-on, hit an off-balance three to send the Badgers to overtime in the first place – after, he turned to face Aaron Rodgers – who attended the game – and did Rodgers’ famous victory belt motion.
Rodgers recognized it.
Finally, Nigel Hayes finished with 22 points on 7/11 shooting. He also went 7/14 from the line, with eight of those attempts coming in the overtime period.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Hayes. “We were able to come all the way back, and tonight we just got out-luckied.”
Sometimes, things work out for the best. You take down a team that’s been hailed as the best in years to give them their first loss of the season in the Final Four. You hit a shot from the corner and are remembered for it.
Other times, the cards don’t go your way. That was the story tonight, as the Wisconsin Badgers finished their season in the most devastating way possible.
“This one is going to hurt for a long time,” said Zak Showalter.