|

Koenig, Badgers prepare for top-ranked 'Cats

Comments Comments Print Print
Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, March 17, 2017

The video of Bronson Koenig's winning 3-pointer against Xavier in the 2016 NCAA Tournament no doubt will rouse Wisconsin fans for years.

Koenig Hit 6 of 12 3-pointers and finished with 20 points in the 66-63 victory. Hit 2 3-pointers in the final 11.7 seconds, the first to forge a tie and the second just before the buzzer to give UW the victory.

Yet Koenig hasn't completely forgotten the next game, UW's 61-56 loss to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. Koenig hit his first two shots but cooled quickly and finished 1 of 6 from 3-point range and 3 of 12 overall.

“I remember coming out and hitting my first couple shots,” Koenig said after practice Saturday. “And then I remember getting really tired in the second half. But that's not an excuse because everyone is tired.”

Koenig doesn't want to relive such a precipitous fall when eighth-seeded UW (26-9) meets No. 1-seeded and defending champion Villanova (32-3) in the second round of the East Regional at approximately 1:40 p.m. (Central) today.

Koenig hit 8 of 17 3-pointers and 9 of 21 shots overall and finished with 28 points in UW's 84-74 victory over Virginia Tech in the opening round.

“I think I play best when I go out there with an 'I don't really care' attitude," he said. “Because when I do that I'm not thinking and when I'm not thinking I shoot the ball a lot better rather than being nervous or tight.

"That's what I told myself. It is my senior year. Be aggressive and let it fly."

You want clutch?

Koenig's second-half 3-pointers against Virginia Tech came with UW holding leads of 4, 2, 3, 1 and 1.

“He's done that throughout the year,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “He was opportunistic and he hit obviously timely shots when we needed it.”

As did fellow senior Nigel Hayes, who recorded his third consecutive double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds)

Hayes entered the night shooting 58.5 percent from the free-throw line. That mark was down significantly from last season, when hit made 73.6 percent of his attempts.

Hayes hit 8 of 9 attempts against Virginian Tech, all in the final 7 minutes 45 seconds of the game.

You want pressure?

Hayes' makes came with UW holding leads of 2, 4, 4 and 1. Two of the made free throws completed 3-point plays to give UW leads of five and four points.

"I even mentioned to the guys having to being willing to die for the opportunity to play in a national championship," Hayes said. "I know it may sound extreme, but I'd rather go out there in the game and give everything I have. … A loss will feel a million times worse than the amount of pain that you (feel) with a win."

Hayes leads all current players in scoring in NCAA Tournament games with 147 points (15 games). Koenig is No. 2 with 142 points, also in 15 games.

“They have been in this atmosphere and ultimately they have belief,” UW associate head coach Lamont Paris said. “If you look at their body of work in the NCAA Tournament, it is pretty good.”

UW will need all its tournament experience to dethrone an experienced Villanova team which has lost just three games—two to Butler by eight points apiece and by two points to Marquette.

Seniors Josh Hart (18.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Kris Jenkins (13.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg), who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the title game last season, have each played in 145 games at Villanova. The Wildcats' record during the last four seasons is 129-16.

Point guard Jalen Brunson, who started 39 games as a freshman, has fit in from Day 1.

“What I see in Villanova is a championship program type swagger,” Gard said. "That air of confidence that borders arrogance. You watch Villanova walk on the floor and they're very confident.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright likened UW to Butler in terms of defense, physical play and toughness.

UW's defense has been solid for most of the season but struggled in the Big Ten title game against Michigan and Thursday against Virginia Tech.

Butler held Villanova to 24.0 percent 3-point shooting (12 of 50) and 40.7 percent shooting overall (44 of 108) in the teams' two meetings.

“They are similar in a lot of ways with their back-line defense, their physicality,” Wright said. “It's a very similar type of game, and it's going to be a struggle.

“And I actually think Wisconsin's bigger, even bigger, than Butler, so probably even tougher. But let's hope we learn from those games.”


Last updated: 9:50 pm Friday, March 17, 2017


Comments Comments Print Print