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Koenig, Hayes lead Wisconsin Badgers back to Sweet 16 in upset of Villanova

Coming in to the season, the Wisconsin Badgers had dreams of a Final Four run. Those dreams seemed fool’s gold during the regular season.

However, after a huge 65-62 upset of No. 1 seed Villanova on Saturday, those dreams are certainly alive and well once again.

Led by three seniors in double figures, the Badgers pulled off the first real big upset of the 2017 NCAA tournament. Nigel Hayes led the way for Wisconsin, pouring in a game-high 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

He also happened to hit the game-winning lay-up with 12 seconds left to play.

Fellow seniors Bronson Koenig and Vitto Brown joined Hayes in double figures, scoring 17 and 10 points respectively. Koenig fought through foul trouble to hit 7 of 11 from the field including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.

Hays and Koenig took this team on their backs late, helping to put UW on course for a 15-5 run to end the game. The duo combined for 12 of the Badgers’ 15 points to end the game.

Sophomore forward Ethan Happ also chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds despite also battling foul trouble for most of the game.

No one would accuse the 2016-17 Wisconsin Badgers for being a consistent team. After winning in the first round, many wondered how UW would come out in this one.

The answer was relatively on fire.

After Josh Hart put Villanova up 3-0 with a jumper and a made free throw, the Badgers responded with a 9-0 run to go up by six points. That early run helped Wisconsin stay in front of the Wildcats for all but 16 seconds of the rest of the first half.

Villanova took a brief lead as Donte DiVincenzo hit a three-pointer with 13:18 to go in the half. Vitto Brown hit his second triple of the first half to re-take the lead just 16 seconds later though, as UW went up 12-10.

Wisconsin led by as many as eight points in the first half, coming as Nigel Hayes hit a free throw with 9:23 to play in the half. Hayes would only produce five points in the half, but also added four key rebounds.

The two teams traded small runs from there, with both teams going 4 of 11 from beyond the arc.

However, it was Wisconsin’s defensive effort that won the first half for them. UW held Villanova to just 29.6 percent field goal shooting.

Nova stayed in the game in large part thanks to its offensive rebounding effort, collecting 10 boards on offense. With the score at 31-27 at the half it seemed like the magical could happen.

However, there were signs that Villanova was closer to controlling this game than Wisconsin and Greg Gard made note of that during his halftime interview.

It turns out he wasn’t wrong, as the Wildcats and Badgers traded buckets to start the second half. Eventually Villanova got Wisconsin rattled and took advantage of it, going on an 13-4 run to open up a 46-41 lead with 10:44 to play.

frustration was mounting for the Badgers at that point, with an offense out of sync and both Happ and Koenig in deep foul trouble. Wisconsin just wouldn’t let up though, fighting to keep the game close and never going down by more than seven points.

That’s where things completely turned around though. As DiVincenzo hit a three-pointer with 5:28 to play, little did he know it was also the spark under Wisconsin’s comeback.

Hayes and Koenig combined to rattle off seven straight points to even the game up within two minutes time. A lay-up by Happ with 2:33 put the Badgers up 59-58 and ironically it came down to the free throw line for the win.

Villanova came in to the game leading the country in free throw percentage. However, the pressure got to the Wildcats, as they only made 2 of 4 to end the game.

That allowed the Badgers to control the game late and after Hayes’ lay-in, Vitto Brown iced the game away with a made free throw with three seconds left.

Wisconsin moves on to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season. They will take on the winner of the No. 4 Florida vs. No. 5 Virginia game next Thursday. Tip time and television will be announced after all games are completed today.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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