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Seniors Showing Up in Crunch Time for Wisconsin Basketball

Redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ has garnered most of the national media attention on this Wisconsin Basketball team, and rightfully so. But with the season on the line, it was Wisconsin’s senior class that stepped up in two straight games to extend their historic careers.

Bronson Koenig has been a phenomenal shotmaker all season long. When Wisconsin’s offense is faltering, Koenig creates and makes shots out of thin air. The last two games have been the biggest example of that. Against Virginia Tech in the Round of 64, Koenig had 28 points, including a Wisconsin NCAA Tournament record eight three-pointers. Then on Saturday, he did it again. In addition, his clutchness was on full display, as it has been his entire career.

After sitting with four fouls (after a terrible charge call) for a long stretch in the second half, Koenig checked back in with five minutes to go. With the Badgers trailing by five, Koenig had seven points in a four minute span, including a pair of huge three-pointers. Koenig may not be the best player in Wisconsin history, but he definitely is the clutchest. He just has ice water running through his veins.

Zak Showalter was also excellent. Although he struggled offensively against Villanova, he was his usual steady, consistent self. He played 38 minutes of incredible defense. He also did a great job as the second guard handling Villanova’s half-court trap. He’s not flashy ,(although his block was actually pretty flashy) but you can also count on him to get the job done. Death, taxes, Showy.

I don’t think I’ve ever criticized a player more than I criticize Vitto Brown. That includes Traveon Jackson, Ryan Evans, and even Joel Stave on the football side. But he shut me up today. His three three-pointers in the first half were huge. He was also the best post feeder on the team in that game. But his defensive play to strip the ball from Josh Hart in the waning seconds will be apart of Badgers lore forever.

Last, and certainly not least, how bout Nigel Hayes! He has taken so much crap from Wisconsin fans over the course of his career. Whether it was due to his regression from his sophomore season or his failure to live up to expectations, he made up for all of it in the last two games. With his Badger career on the line, he refused to lose. He was an absolute beast. Against Virginia Tech, he had 16 points and 10 rebounds, including 8-9 free throws. But that performance paled in comparison to what he did against Villanova. With Happ and Koenig taken out of the game by the refs for large chunks of the game, Hayes was the rock. He kept Wisconsin afloat all game, with 19 huge points. He just did what it took to win. His game-winning fake spin and reverse layup was a thing of beauty.

With all the attention this season in college basketball on star freshmen like Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Lauri Markkanen, and Jayson Tatum, it is truly special to see seniors step up and dominate like the Badgers quartet did against Villanova. They were determined to make sure that this wasn’t their last game wearing cardinal and white. It has been an absolute joy watching Koenig, Hayes, Showalter, and Brown play over the last four years, and today was their best performance yet. I want to see them play as many more games as possible. I really, really don’t want to see them leave.

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