Bad­gers edge top seed and de­fend­ing cham­pion Vil­lanova

Bad­gers stay cool, take out Wild­cats

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY AVA WAL­LACE

buf­falo — Wis­con­sin for­ward Nigel Hayes could wall­pa­per his apart­ment back in Madi­son with all the March Mad­ness mem­o­ra­bilia he has col­lected over the years. He has spent more than 40 days of his 22 years on Earth pur­su­ing NCAA tour­na­ment wins and has come away with 13 of them for the Bad­gers, the most of any team in the coun­try over the past four sea­sons. All that time has taught Hayes to do one thing above all else in NCAA tour­na­ment games: Don’t panic.

Hayes, there­fore, looked per­fectly serene Satur­day in front of a not-so-serene crowd at KeyBank Cen­ter as No. 8 seed Wis­con­sin picked off Vil­lanova, the de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion and the tour­na­ment’s No. 1 over­all seed. The Bad­gers’

65-62 vic­tory ad­vanced them to the tour­na­ment’s Sweet 16 for the fourth con­sec­u­tive sea­son.

The fi­nal se­quence of events would have given any player heart pal­pi­ta­tions: Af­ter scrap­ing back from a seven-point deficit with less than six min­utes re­main­ing, Wis­con­sin fi­nally had the chance to seal a win. And yet Hayes barely showed any ef­fort as he tossed up a re­verse layup with 12 sec­onds left to put the Bad­gers up 64-62. On Vil­lanova’s en­su­ing pos­ses­sion, an­other preter­nat­u­rally calm se­nior, Vitto Brown, snatched the ball out of Josh Hart’s hands on the other end of the court. He was fouled in the process.

Brown made one free throw with four sec­onds re­main­ing, Vil­lanova was un­able to get off a fi­nal shot, and Wis­con­sin moved on to the East Re­gion semi­fi­nals Fri­day in New York, where it will play No. 4 seed Flor­ida.

“You have all types of your rank­ing sys­tems, statis­tic, an­a­lytic guys,” Hayes explained af­ter. “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.”

It may seem un­fair, then, that in ad­di­tion to those qual­i­ties, the Bad­gers pos­sess cal­cu­la­ble tal­ents such as guard Bron­son Koenig, for­ward Ethan Happ and Hayes, who led the team with 19 points and eight re­bounds while the other two sat on the bench in foul trou­ble for long stretches and tried to, yes, stay calm.

The game was tied at 37 with 13:41 re­main­ing when Koenig picked up his fourth foul. Coach Greg Gard had no choice but to sit his point guard, even though Koenig had made a pro­gram-record eight three-point­ers in the Bad­gers’ first-round vic­tory over Vir­ginia Tech and was des­per­ately needed against a Vil­lanova team that was sim­i­larly sea­soned and more dec­o­rated than the Bad­gers.

But Koenig sat for more than eight min­utes, by which time the Wild­cats pried open a sev­en­point lead and Gard had no choice but to put his star guard back in.

“I felt ter­ri­ble, to say the least, when I got my fourth foul and I was just sit­ting on the bench . . . . I knew that’s not how my ca­reer was go­ing to end,” Koenig said. “I knew that when Coach gave me the op­por­tu­nity to get back in there, I was go­ing to make some­thing hap­pen.”

Koenig scored eight points af­ter re­turn­ing with 5:14 re­main­ing, in­clud­ing two of his three three-point­ers. He fin­ished the game with 17 points.

“That’s what close games come down to,” Vil­lanova Coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve been on the other end of that a lot. And when an­other team steps up and makes those plays and two great play­ers like Koenig and Hayes make those plays, you got to give them credit.”

Josh Hart (Sid­well Friends) led the Wild­cats with 19 points in his fi­nal game in a Vil­lanova uni­form. Red­shirt fresh­man guard Donte DiVin­cenzo added 15 points in­clud­ing three three­p­oint­ers.

“Josh and Kris [Jenk­ins] and Dar­ryl [Reynolds] are three of the great­est Vil­lanova bas­ket­ball play­ers of all time,” Wright said of his se­nior lead­ers. “Their class is go­ing to go down as the most suc­cess­ful class in Vil­lanova his­tory . . . . To be that suc­cess­ful on the court and re­ally rep­re­sent the univer­sity like they do is some­thing spe­cial. We told our younger guys that that’s what you want to be. That’s what you want to be as a Vil­lanova bas­ket­ball player. You want to be like Kris and Josh and Dar­ryl.”

All three of those se­niors know what it’s like to be on the win­ning side of a tight game like Satur­day’s. Even more re­cently than last year’s dizzy­ing na­tional ti­tle game, the Wild­cats had needed a her­culean sec­ond-half ef­fort to ad­vance past No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary’s af­ter a slow start on Thurs­day. So in a game in which both sides had ex­pe­ri­ence, poise and com­fort with last-sec­ond sit­u­a­tions, Hayes had to pause for a mo­ment in the locker room be­fore de­cid­ing why one calm team ad­vanced past the other. He looked down at the lat­est March Mad­ness mem­o­ra­bilia for his col­lec­tion.

“Some­times,” he said, look­ing up, “it’s just two great teams and you run out of time.”

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