Wisconsin is back in the Sweet 16.
The No. 8 Badgers upset defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova on Saturday afternoon, 65-62, to punch their ticket to the regional stage for the fourth year in a row. It was one of the most dramatic games of this NCAA tournament so far, and it sent the Badgers to an East regional semifinal in New York next week.
An updated tournament bracket, now with the champions out of it, is here. Wisconsin will play either Virginia or Florida at Madison Square Garden.
Wisconsin had a four-point halftime lead, but Villanova surged ahead a couple of minutes into the second half. That set off a bout of lead-trading between the two teams, with each team pulling ahead briefly down the stretch.
There were lots of key moments, but the big one was a reverse layup by Wisconsin senior Nigel Hayes with 11.4 seconds left, to put the Badgers up 64-62. Villanova couldn’t answer on the other end, when Vitto Brown stripped the ball away from Josh Hart on a driving layup attempt. The Badgers held on.
Here’s Hayes’ basket, which stood as the winner:
Villanova defended the play pretty well. Hayes was covered the entire time he had the ball, until he slipped free with the help of some convincing hesitation.
Both teams have loads of tournament experience. Villanova’s been a regular participant under Jay Wright, having made all but one Big Dance since 2005. Wisconsin’s been in the tournament every year since 1999.
The coaches, Wright and Greg Gard, are extremely used to coaching in big games. So are the cores of both rosters. This was nobody’s first rodeo. It was what happens when two really well-coached, experienced, talented teams put everything on the line. That made it one of the tournament’s greatest games yet.
Wisconsin had a mediocre year in the Big Ten, at least by its own lofty standards. That left the Badgers as an eighth seed, which set up a pretty rough second-round draw for Villanova, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. It was a good deal for all us who got to watch, but it was a pretty bad deal for Villanova.
This is the second time in three tournaments that Villanova has gone out in the second game as a No. 1 seed. The Wildcats also took a three-point loss in this round to a No. 8 seed in 2014, when NC State beat them. If Nova fans are looking for a silver lining, it can be that the last time this happened, a championship came a year later.