BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – No. 1 and done.
Top-seeded Villanova was bounced from the NCAA Tournament by eighth-seeded Wisconsin, which overcame foul trouble for two of its stars in the second half Saturday to upset the defending champions 65-62 in the East region.
Nigel Hayes scored 19 points, dropping a layup in traffic with 11.4 seconds left to put Wisconsin ahead 64-62, and Bronson Koenig added 17 for the tournament-toughened Badgers (27-9), who are going back to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year. They’ll play next week at New York’s Madison Square Garden after knocking off Villanova (32-4), which never found its traction in snowy Buffalo.
Josh Hart scored 19 to lead the Wildcats, but the senior guard was stripped by Wisconsin center Ethan Happ on a drive in the final seconds. Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown then split a pair of free throws with four seconds left, but Villanova couldn’t get off a final shot.
When the horn sounded, Wisconsin’s red-clad fans erupted in celebration and the Badgers stormed the floor after taking down a No. 1 seed for the third time in four years. Wisconsin beat Arizona in 2014, Kentucky in 2015 and now can add Villanova to its list.
Flushed with pride, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard hugged his wife and children as the Badgers’ pep band played their hearts out.
For Villanova, it’s a bitter end to a great season by the Big East champions, who came into the tournament expected to at least escape the East’s bracket but had their hopes busted and will have to relish those moments from last year when they won their first title since 1985.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright was concerned about Wisconsin, calling them a “great number eight” seed. As it turned out, the Badgers were more than that, as savvy seniors Koenig and Hayes made several key plays in the closing minutes.
Super sub freshman Donte DiVincenzo scored 15 and Jalen Brunson added 11 for Villanova, which had looked so vulnerable in a first-round win over No. 16 seeded Mount St. Mary’s.
The sloppy performance foreshadowed trouble for the Wildcats and it hurt that Kris Jenkins, the hero of last year’s title game when he drained a 3-pointer to beat North Carolina, couldn’t shake a prolonged shooting slump. Jenkins went just 2 of 9 against Wisconsin and finished 4 of 22 in two games in KeyBank Center.
Jenkins and fellow seniors Hart and Darryl Reynolds finish their career 129-17 in four years, but the sting of their last loss might linger.
Koenig spent much of the second half nervously watching his teammates from the bench after picking up his fourth foul. He returned with 5:43 and the Badgers trailing 54-49.
The senior went right to work and scored on a layup before draining a 3-pointer from the right corner to tie it at 57-all. Koenig then committed what could have been a killer turnover with 36.4 seconds left when his pass out of a trap to Hayes was stolen by DiVincenzo, who was fouled by Hayes. However, Villanova’s redshirt freshman split a pair of free throws with 36.4 seconds left, giving the ball back to Wisconsin and Gard called time.
Hayes, who has scored 166 points in the tournament in his career, then made the two biggest as he drove baseline and dropped his reverse layup on the left side to give the Badgers a 64-62 lead with 11.4 seconds left.
“They’ve been crowding me so I knew I would have the baseline,” Hayes said. “I drove baseline and 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 and fortunately it went in.”
Happ then made the game’s defining defensive play, ripping the ball away from Hart. The Wildcats quickly fouled Brown, who made one free throw to give Badgers a three-point cushion that turned out to be more than enough as Villanova struggled to corral the rebound and saw its season ended earlier than expected.
The Badgers have been at their best when it matters most.
Under Gard, Wisconsin improved to 39-1 when leading or tied with five minutes remaining, including 24-1 this season.
With a crown come expectations, sometimes unrealistic ones. Tabbed as the team to beat – well, at least one of them – Villanova’s players and coaches knew anything less than a return to the Final Four would be looked at as failure.
Maybe not fair, but Wright knows that’s the reality.
“You’re a one seed, you’re supposed to get to the Final Four, get out of your bracket,” he said. “That’s probably what we have to be to be a success. And as you know, we accept that, we’ll take it. We’re not going to define ourselves that way, but we do get it.”
Villanova: There would be no magic this March for the Wildcats, who didn’t talk about repeating but were constantly reminded about trying to be the first team to win consecutive titles since Florida in 2007. Jenkins and Hart are NBA bound, but in Brunson, Divincenzo and Eric Paschall, Villanova has a solid core coming back.
Wisconsin: All that’s left for the Badgers seniors – Koenig, Hayes, Brown and Zak Showalter – is to win a national title. They’ve won a national-best 13 NCAA tourney games in the past four years and can’t be overlooked despite their seed. This team can play almost any style and in Koenig Wisconsin has a player capable of taking over.
Wisconsin: Will play the Florida-Virginia winner next week.
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