Wisconsin Badgers: 66, Xavier Musketeers: 63
Well, there’s another last-second shot to add to the list of buzzer beaters this NCAA Tournament season. Sunday night’s game was a hard-fought win for Wisconsin. Both teams were playing great basketball. The action of the game was very back and forth, making for an intriguing game for fans across the country. When Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig tied the score with 11 seconds left in regulation, the Scottrade Center in St. Louis went silent. After an offensive foul on Xavier, I assumed the game would be going into overtime. Koenig launched a last second three from the right side. When that ball swooshed through the net, the red and white in the stands screamed. It was a game that will go down in Wisconsin’s history as a classic.
X-Factor in This Game
Greg Gard has been incredible in his first few games as the official head coach of Wisconsin. After the team struggled on Friday night, many Badger fans were worried about Sunday’s game against the solid Xavier Musketeers. The Badgers came out and played some of their best basketball of the season, and this can only be contributed to Gard. He had to deal with the three big men (Vitto Brown, Ethan Happ, and Nigel Hayes) being in foul trouble. He remedied this by subbing bench players in often and playing with different mixes of players. This proved to be helpful in the win because it gave different players a chance to mix things up a bit and give different momentum to the team. As well, he called a timeout with 2 seconds left in the game. Bronson had dribbled up the court, leaving 2 seconds left on the clock before Gard called the timeout. I thought he could’ve kept the game going and see what play came up. However, calling this timeout allowed for better position, allowing Koenig’s buzzer beater to happen. Gard got the Badgers ready to face the Musketeers and made some solid coaching decisions down the stretch, which helped Wisconsin win this game.
Why Wisconsin Won This Game
Obviously, Koenig’s buzzer beater. But, more than that, the bench players for Wisconsin came out and showed up on Sunday night. Brown, Happ, and Hayes (arguably Wisconsin’s three best players) were all in foul trouble. Gard was forced to look to the bench, which included three freshmen and one junior player. While the bench did not score much, only 6 points collectively, they did a lot of damage on offense and defense.
Jordan Hill played 21 minutes. He contributed three assists and managed to make plays on offense, something that the Badgers struggled with on Friday night’s game against Pittsburgh. Hill was helpful because he’s a junior, adding a little bit of seniority to the young Badgers squad. Khalil Iverson, freshman, gave a huge spark to the Wisconsin lineup. He contributed a huge dunk that helped give Wisconsin huge momentum down the stretch. He also played great defense, adding 2 rebounds and 3 blocks. Iverson helped give the Badgers a little spark when Xavier could have pulled away and won the game. Freshmen Alex Illikainen and Charlie Thomas also contributed to the win, with Illikainen giving 2 points to the scoreboard, and Thomas securing 3 rebounds for the Badgers on defense.
Star of the Game
Bronson Koenig was beautiful in this game. He has had his ups and downs this season. This game was one of his “ups”. He was the leading scorer for Wisconsin, with 20 points, six of which came in the last 11 seconds of the game. He made 6 three-pointers and also secured 7 rebounds for the Badgers. One of the great things about Koenig (and also bad, depending on the game situation) is that he never gives up. Koenig went on a run where he missed most of his shots, but he continued to believe in himself, and it paid off. This helps the younger players on the team develop that same confidence, and at the end of the day, that is the main lesson of basketball, never give up.
Dud of the Game
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes has had a few rough games in the past few weeks. His shots can not seem to fall. Hayes went 2-10 in field goals, 0-5 in three-pointers, and 2-4 in free throws, not his best offensive night. His presence on defense was helpful, as he contributed 8 rebounds and 1 block to the win. However, Hayes really needs to step up and become a star and a leader on offense and defense for this team if Wisconsin is going to advance farther in the tournament (as well as if Hayes will be entering the NBA draft after this season as some say he will).
This is a game that will be a classic for Wisconsin fans for many years to come. At the end of the day, it was just wonderful basketball to watch. Both teams played great, which was evident in the many lead changes and ties. Xavier is a solid basketball team, and this win is incredibly encouraging for the young Badger squad. Wisconsin proved that they can go far in this tournament. Teams and fans from other schools should not discount Wisconsin. The Badgers are a real threat in this tournament, and it will be exciting to watch more Wisconsin basketball. Wisconsin will face the sixth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sweet 16 on Friday, March 25, in Philadelphia.
University of Wisconsin, Class of 2019