Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 65, #1 Villanova 62Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017
In this NCAA Tournament’s first major upset, #1 overall seed Villanova fell to #8 Wisconsin in a tough, back-and-forth game decided in the closing seconds.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Wisconsin showed serious grit. In control for the opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin surrendered its narrow lead midway through the second half before falling behind 57-50 with 5:31 remaining. Its defense, which had been so excellent for most of the game (“They’re good defensively… we’re trying to figure it out,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said at halftime), let off the pedal to some extent. Meanwhile, two of the Badgers’ best players — Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — were saddled with foul trouble. Things began to look dire. So how did Greg Gard’s group respond? By preventing the reigning National Champion from making a single field goal from there on out. It was a tough, gritty performance by Wisconsin — perhaps one you’d expect from a team led by tested seniors.
- Remember Nigel Hayes? He’s still really good. Once considered a National Player of the Year candidate, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes took a back seat this season to frontcourt mate Ethan Happ, who earned Second Team All-America honors. But Happ, along with point guard Bronson Koenig, were both forced to sit the bench for far longer than expected on Saturday. The sophomore picked up his third foul early in the second half; Koenig picked us his fourth with 13:40 remaining. That’s when Hayes stepped up. The 6’8″ senior scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including the game-winning bucket with 14 seconds left. He also grabbed five offensive rebounds and was extremely active on defense. In a game that lacked much rhythm, Hayes provided a confidence and consistency that carried the Badgers to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Villanova never hit its stride this Tournament. The reigning National Champion was dominant for much of the regular season, slicing and dicing opponents with its tremendous ball movement and lockdown capabilities on the defensive end. But that team, the dominant one, never made it to Buffalo. After a lethargic effort against #16 Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday, Villanova put forth another sluggish, uneven effort on Saturday. This time, however — against a more evenly-matched opponent — the Wildcats weren’t able to skate by on talent alone. Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart played well (19 points), but it wasn’t enough against a tough, defensive-minded team like Wisconsin.
Player of the Game. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin (19 points, eight rebounds). Despite his foul trouble, Bronson Koenig (17 points, 7-of-11 FG) was outstanding again on Saturday, but it was Hayes’ activity, especially in the second half, that enabled Wisconsin to grind out this upset. Credit the senior for stepping up.
- “If you guys are familiar with the Michael Jordan highlight ‘the fake spin-back’, I did my fake spin-back, got to my left hand… for the win.” – Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes on his game-wining basket.
Sights and Sounds. Midway through the second half, Villanova’s Eric Paschall nearly fumbled the ball out of bounds. Luckily for him, the errant ball hit an official in the head and bounced right back into the sophomore’s hands. His subsequent pass wound up resulting in a turnover nonetheless (ball don’t lie), but it was nearly a hilarious break for the Wildcats.
What’s Next. The Badgers, now in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth consecutive season, will look to continue their NCAA Tournament excellence against either #4 Florida or #5 Virginia next week in Madison Square Garden.