If you missed the first part of the countdown, which included the introduction, honorable mentions, and numbers 6-10, you can find them here.
5. Wisconsin beats Kentucky in the Final Four
It’s hard to argue against this being the best moment in Wisconsin Badgers sports history. The only reason it is so low on the list is because that game, and most of that season, had much more to do with the performances of Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Josh Gasser than this year’s graduating class. But the duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig were huge in that game, and Wisconsin likely doesn’t win without them.
In that historic game, Hayes played 37 minutes, and recorded 12 points. He also had the offensive rebound and put-back to tie the score with 2:30 remaining in the game. Koenig also had 12 points, along with three huge free throws to ice the game in the closing seconds.
4. Wisconsin turns season around with win over MSU.
Heading into the January 7th tilt against Michigan State, Wisconsin Basketball was in disarray. They were 9-9 overall, and just 1-4 in the conference. It looked like Wisconsin’s streaks of finishing in the top-4 of the Big Ten and making the NCAA Tournament was dead in the water. Interim Head Coach Greg Gard’s chances of securing the real job also seemed to be rapidly slipping away.
That’s when the duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig stepped up and carried the team to a season changing win. Hayes had 25 points and seven rebounds, which believe it or not, was only the second best performance on the team. That’s because Koenig, who was dubbed the “Spartan Killer” by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, poured in 27 points of his own. Koenig also drained the clutch (surprise, surprise) three-pointer to bring Wisconsin within one with 30 seconds remaining. He then had the game-winning assist to Ethan Happ.
As you probably know, the rest is history. Wisconsin went on to win 11 out of their next 13 games, cruise to an NCAA Tournament bid, and keep the streak of top-four finishes alive. Oh yeah, and Greg Gard got his contract, leaving the future of Wisconsin Basketball in good hands. All because of the performances of Koenig and Hayes.
3. Showy sparks Wisconsin to Sweet 16 Victory over UNC
Before I get in to the game itself, I just want to take a minute to talk about Showalter. He may not be the most talented Badger ever, but he might be my favorite. He started as a walk-on, and transformed himself into a spark plug on the best team in school history, before becoming a reliable two-year starter. Showalter was all energy all the time. He really personified the blue collar mentality of this Wisconsin program, and I’m going to miss the hell out of him. He was just a pure, gritty, playmaker. And none of his plays were bigger and more memorable than what he did against UNC.
With Wisconsin in a Sweet 16 dogfight against UNC, Showalter checked into the game with 8:19 remaining and the Badgers trailing by three. On a team with two future first-round picks and four future All-Big Ten players, it was Showy that stepped up to save the day. First, he drove to the basket with 7:58 remaining and got a layup. He then drove into the lane and kicked it out to Frank the Tank to drain a wide open three-pointer.
On the ensuing possession, he got free on a back-door cut and finished with a reverse layup. But his work still wasn’t done. Seconds later, he stripped a UNC player and took it all the way for a layup. Just like that, Showy had created nine-points in under three minutes to give Wisconsin the permanent lead. Nothing that happens for the rest of the season- not the second straight Final Four, not the Kentucky win- happens without the scrappy walk-on from Germantown, Wisconsin.
2. Koenig buzzer-beater to beat Xavier
Bronson Koenig was a great point guard and an even better shot creator. As the all-time leader in made three-pointers at Wisconsin, he was obviously a terrific shooter. But his best attribute was his ability to take, and make, the big shot. Koenig’s veins are made out of pure ice, and nothing else. He hit a ton of clutch shots over his Badger career, but none were bigger and more memorable than his buzzer-beat against the #2-seed Xavier in the Round of 32.
With the Badgers trailing by three with just 13 seconds to play, Koenig drained a deep three-pointer that was arguably just as clutch as the buzzer beater itself. Then on the other end of the court, Showalter did what he does best and took a charge, giving the ball back to the Badgers. The rest is history.
Goosebumps. Goosebumps every single time. Winning on buzzer beaters is much more fun.
1. Wisconsin takes down overall #1 Villanova
This game showed everything this senior class was about. They did not back down from challenges. This was their fourth tournament upset in four seasons. They also never gave up, coming back from seven down with five minted to go. This senior class showed their leadership, resiliency, and fight.
Zak Showalter was the glue, playing great defense and securing every possible loose ball.
Showy doesn’t looked pleased with the refs. pic.twitter.com/ShH1GEXJnk
— Big Ten Geek (@bigtengeek) March 18, 2017
Bronson Koenig hit clutch shots (surprise, surprise), scoring eight points in the final five minutes of the game, including a game-tying three-pointer.
Like usual, the often polarizing and criticized Nigel Hayes stepped up with his team needing him the most, putting the team on his back and refusing to let his career end.
Vitto Brown chipped in 10 points, and came up with the defensive play of the season for the Badger by stripping Josh Hart of a chance at a game-tying layup.
This was the game that defined this senior class. It was the game where they refused to back down and refused to lose. The season, and their careers, didn’t end the way we wanted them to, but we’ll always have this game, and the rest of the moments on this list. For that reason, I’ll always be thankful for this group.