By PAUL GOTHAM
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Wisconsin played in Villanova’s wheelhouse and came out on top.
Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined to score 14 points in the final five minutes, and the No. 8-seed Wisconsin Badgers erased a late deficit en route to a 65-62 victory over the top-seeded and reigning national champions Villanova Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Tournament East Region at Key Bank Center.
Hayes fed Koenig in the right corner for a three-pointer to tie the game at 57. The senior forward gave Wisconsin the lead for good when he drove baseline for a reverse layup.
“It’s kind of a play we run all of the time, just a side isolation,” Hayes explained. “Ethan (Happ) set a screen to try to give me a little traffic to try baseline. I didn’t know what move I was actually going to do before I caught the ball. Just went, did a fake spin, got to my left hand and fortunately the lay-up went in for us.”
Villanova took a timeout with 11.4 seconds remaining on the clock, but the Wildcats could not convert. Last April, Ryan Arcidiacono went the length of the floor and shuttled a feed to Kris Jenkins to beat North Carolina in the national championship. Saturday, the Badgers denied Jalen Brunson the ball. Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ stopped the Josh Hart in the lane.
“Nigel had him,” Happ explained. “Nigel picked up and they screened him, so we ended up switching it. I know he likes to go left and spin back, but he just stuck to his left hand the whole time and then Vitto came over with great help and I walled him up and Vitto came over and got the almost tie-up, but ended up blocking it.”
Brown was fouled on the play and converted one of two free throws.
“Either Hart or Brunson, just what we had seen on film,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said of the play. “They’ve made so many last second game-winning plays. Going through the film, just the games of theirs, you look at the tight games and down the stretch how many game-winning plays they’ve made. And predominantly it had been in those two guys’ hands or those two guys were somehow involved.”
Trailing 57-50, the Badgers came out of a timeout and went to Hayes for two. Koenig, who sat out nearly 10 minutes with four fouls, followed with a pull-up jumper next trip down the floor. Koenig’s third three of game gave Wisconsin a 62-59 edge.
“When I got my fourth foul and I was just sitting on the bench trying to be a coach from the bench and help all our guys out,” Koenig said. “I knew that’s not how my career was going to end. I knew that when coach gave me the opportunity to get back in there, I was going to make something happen. So I’m just glad we pulled it out.”
Villanova had won 69 straight games when holding opponents to 65 points or less.
“We had a couple empty possessions at the end, and they had two great possessions, the one by Nigel Hayes driving the baseline, and that one baseline out of bounds when Koenig hit the three was huge,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “That’s what close games come down to. We’ve been on the other end of that a lot, and when another team steps up and makes those plays and two great players like Koenig and Hayes make those plays, you got to give them credit.”
Villanova led early. A Donte DiVincenzo three-pointer gave the Wildcats a 10-9, but Wisconsin answered.
Koenig knocked down a pull-up jumper just above the free throw line and followed with a 3-pointer for a 17-12 Wisconsin first-half lead.
The Badgers pushed the advantage to six when Brown connected on one of his three treys in the half. Wisconsin still led by six at 29-23 when Hayes grabbed his own miss and finished underneath.
Villanova’s Eric Paschall responded with four straight when the sophomore forward converted one of two from the free throw line and hit a triple of his own.
Koenig hit a step-back jumper for the halftime margin of 31-27 in favor of Wisconsin.
Hayes led Wisconsin with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Koenig added 17. Happy scored 12, and Brown chipped in 10.
Hart paced Villanova with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor and 8 of 10 from the free throw line. DiVincenzo scored 15, and Brunson had 11.
Wisconsin came into the game averaging 11 turnovers per game, but the Wildcats forced 14 miscues and converted those into a 19-10 advantage in points off mishandles. Wisconsin committed eight turnovers in their first-round win over Virginia Tech.
Wisconsin (27-9) will face the Florida-Virginia winner in the Sweet 16. The Badgers have won 13 NCAA Tournament games since 2014 – the most in the nation. The Badgers are 7-2 all-time as a No. 8-seed.
Villanova (32-4) fell 58-35 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 21-13 under head coach Jay Wright.
Jenkins finished 2 of 9 (6 points) for the day and 4 of 21 overall in the tournament.