Badgers caught reliving the past
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--For a few seconds, Bronson Koenig found himself reliving a painful defeat.
“I had flashbacks to Notre Dame,” Wisconsin’s senior guard said.
Koenig was referring to UW’s 61-56 loss to the Irish last season in the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia, a game in which he had a critical turnover with three seconds left and the Badgers trailing by three.
What sparked the flashback was a turnover with 36.4 seconds left in UW’s 65-62 victory over top-seeded Villanova in the second round of the East Regional Saturday in Buffalo.
“I got trapped and I should have taken a timeout,” Koenig said.
Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo stole Koenig’s pass and was fouled by Nigel Hayes. DiVincenzo made the first free throw to forge a 62-62 tie but missed the second.
“I was asking God for him to miss that free throw,” Koenig said with a smile, “and luckily he did.”
Hayes followed with a huge drive, Vitto Brown came up with a steal and hit 1 of 2 free throws, and eighth-seeded UW (27-9) completed an impressive comeback to move into the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season.
UW faces No. 4 Florida (26-8) at approximately 9 p.m. Central Friday at Madison Square Garden. Third-seeded Baylor (27-7) faces No. 7 South Carolina (24-10) at 6:30 p.m. in the other regional semifinal.
The loss to the Irish bothered the players for months because UW led by nine points in the first half, by eight in the second and was outscored, 8-0, in the final 19 seconds.
Obscured by that loss, however, is the fact that the Badgers have overcome second-half deficits in three of their four NCAA Tournament victories in the last two seasons.
The Badgers trailed by five against Pittsburgh in their opener last season before winning, 47-43. They trailed Xavier by nine before winning, 66-63, on Koenig’s three-pointer at the buzzer. They trailed Villanova by seven, with 5 minutes 27 seconds left but closed on a 15-5 run.
And don’t forget that, led by Koenig and Hayes, UW made winning play after winning play down the stretch to pull away from Virginia Tech in the opening round.
UW, led by four senior starters, generally finds ways to flourish with the game on the line.
“It’s just never losing poise, never getting rattled,” Koenig said. “That is something we’ve talked about throughout the tournament. It is something we take pride in.”
ESPN analyst Dan Dakich pointed to the No. 1 reason for UW’s late-game success—experience.
Hayes and Koenig have played in 16 NCAA Tournament games apiece and UW is 13-3 in those games.
Fellow seniors Vitto Brown (11) and Zak Showalter (10) have appeared in a combined 21 NCAA Tournament games.
“Look, the seeding was ridiculous,” Dakich said during ESPN’s "College GameDay" show, referring to UW being seeded No. 8. “They’ve got clutch guys. Bronson Koenig has been doing this. … I coached against him in AAU and he was doing it in AAU.
“We had to put three guys on him, for crying out loud. …
"And Hayes really has been the difference in this tournament. Hayes has gone on the block. He played from the free-throw line down."
In contrast, Florida’s players are learning as they go.
Senior guard Kasey Hill (9.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) entered the season as the only player on the team with NCAA Tournament experience. He played in five games on the team that reached the Final Four in 2014 before losing to Connecticut.
The Gators started two seniors, two sophomores and a junior in their two NCAA Tournament games — an 80-65 victory over East Tennessee State and a 65-39 victory over Virginia.
Youth hasn’t been an issue.
“They’ve played basketball before,” Hill said of his younger teammates. “They’ve been playing basketball all their life. They’ve just got to keep doing that, and we’ll be fine.”
Hayes and Koenig learned from the veterans on the 2014 and ‘15 Final Four teams. UW overcame second-half deficits against Oregon and Arizona in 2014 and against North Carolina and Kentucky in 2015.
"You have all types of your ranking systems, statistic, analytics guys that they put out," Hayes said. "The thing is with all those algorithms, they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire. They can’t put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that’s the things that we have. The things that we’ve grown with."
Last updated: 11:28 pm Monday, March 20, 2017