St. Louis — Wisconsin coach Greg Gard never lost confidence in Bronson Koenig, even when he struggled in the Big Ten Tournament and failed to hit a 3-pointer in an NCAA Tournament win over Pittsburgh.
Gard proved just how much he believed in him Sunday night.
After watching the talented sharpshooter hit a tying 3-pointer from well beyond the arc, Gard drew up another play for him with a couple ticks left on the clock. Koenig took the inbound pass, whirled around and buried the shot to give the Badgers a 66-63 victory against second-seeded Xavier and a spot in the Sweet 16.
“I tried to tell him to keep shooting. The last couple of games the ball hasn’t gone in like he wanted to,” Gard said. “You can’t lose confidence in him. Tell him to keep working and it’ll work out OK.”
Far better than just OK.
Koenig finished with six 3-pointers and 20 points. Ethan Happ had 18 points and Vitto Brown finished with 12 for Wisconsin (22-12), which improved to 15-5 in the NCAA Tournament over the past six seasons.
The No. 7 seed Badgers will face sixth-seeded Notre Dame on Friday in Philadelphia.
“I knew it was going in before it even left my hand. That’s a shot I practice a lot pregame,” Koenig said of his winner. “I just let it fly and I knew it was going in.”
He had a similarly good feeling about his 3-pointer from well beyond the line that tied it at 63 with 11.7 seconds remaining. And when Edmond Sumner was called for an offensive foul driving to the basket for Xavier (28-6), the Badgers got the ball back with a chance to make Koenig’s memorable night even better.
“I just tried to channel my inner Steph Curry,” Koenig said, referring to the reigning NBA MVP.
Remy Abell and Jalen Reynolds had 13 points each and Sumner scored 11 for Xavier, which had a 58-49 lead with just over 6 minutes left.
“Really, really tough locker room,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “Told the players in the locker room that the sun will shine tomorrow. It doesn’t feel like it. But it always does.”
The game lived up to its rough-and-tumble billing, the pendulum swinging wildly in the first half.
The Badgers, who struggled to score 16 points by halftime in their 47-43 win over the Panthers, raced out to a 17-8 lead before Xavier could blink. But the 1-3-1 zone of the Musketeers eventually slowed them down, and the Big East runner-ups countered with a 21-8 run of their own.
They led 33-30 at halftime in an arena heavily tilted toward Badgers fans.
The lead changed hands six times in the early minutes of the second half before the Musketeers began to assert themselves, and Abell knocked down a 3-pointer to give Xavier a 49-47 lead.
Cheered on by super-fan Bill Murray, the actor and comedian whose son Luke is an assistant on Chris Mack’s staff, the Musketeers eventually pushed their lead to 58-49 — their biggest of the game.
The Badgers weren’t done, though. They never seem to be this time of year.
Seeking a third straight trip to the Final Four, the Badgers quickly cut into their deficit. Koenig hit a pair of foul shots, and then a strip-steal turned into a layup for Showalter. Hill hit another shot to make it 61-57 at the under-4 minute timeout.
The Badgers didn’t stop coming back until the final shot of the game.
“This group just would not quit, would not give in,” Gard said. “I can’t be more proud of a group of young men that have withstood every challenge that’s come at them, every adversity piece.”
MORE EAST REGION
No. 6 Notre Dame 76, No. 14 Stephen F. Austin 75: Rex Plfueger tapped in a miss with 1.5 seconds left and Notre Dame survived a valiant effort by Stephen F. Austin to reach the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. With 17.5 seconds left, Notre Dame grabbed an SFA rebound down one and put it in the hands of Demetrius Jackson. The point guard drove to the basket and missed. Zach Auguste followed for the Irish (22-12) but could not convert. The ball slipped off the rim and with one hand Pflueger flipped it in for his only basket of the game.
A long heave from Stephen F. Austin (28-6) went wide and Notre Dame celebrated by swarming Pflueger.
The Irish advance to play Wisconsin Friday.
Thomas Walkup, the hero of Stephen F. Austin’s first-round upset of West Virginia, scored 21.
No. 2 Villanova 87, No. 7 Iowa 68: Josh Hart scored 19 points and Villanova advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. Villanova’s senior class, led by Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, made it to the tournament’s second weekend for the first time. They were upset in the round of 32 the last two seasons and didn’t make it that far as freshmen.
The Wildcats (31-5) will meet third-seeded Miami on Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky.
There was no doubt in this one. Villanova led 54-29 at halftime and by as many as 34 points in the second half. The closest Iowa (22-11) got was 16 points in the final minutes.
No. 5 Maryland 73, No. 13 Hawaii 60: Melo Trimble scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Diamond Stone added 14 points for Maryland (27-8), which advanced to the round of 16 for the eighth time in the past 22 years.
Mike Thomas had 19 points and 11 rebounds for Hawaii (28-6), which won a tournament game for the first time this season.
Maryland will play Kansas next Thursday.
After a sluggish first half in which Maryland led 28-27, the tempo picked up in the second.
Hawaii went on a 10-4 run to take a 39-36 lead. Then the bottom fell out.
No. 10 Syracuse 75, No. 15 Middle Tennessee State 50: The insufferable zone of Syracuse ground Middle Tennessee State’s magical March ride to a halt. Michael Gbinije poured in 23 points, Tyler Lydon added 14 and the Orange (21-13) used a 21-2 charge midway through the second half to crack open a close game and join five other ACC schools in advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
After teetering on the bubble a week ago, they’ll play No. 11 seed Gonzaga on Friday in Chicago.
The Blue Raiders (25-10), who shredded so many brackets with their upset of second-seeded Michigan State, made things tough on Syracuse for a while. They led early in the second half and still trailed just 40-39 with 16:02 to go, but proceeded to make one of their next 16 field-goal attempts.
No. 2 Oklahoma 85, No. 10 VCU 81: Buddy Hield scored 19 of his 36 points in the final eight minutes. Hield, who didn’t score for more than 10 minutes to start the game, made 9 of 12 shots in the second half after going 2 for 8 in the first. The senior guard posted at least 30 points for the 11th time this season.
Jordan Woodard scored 17 points and Isaiah Cousins added 15 for the Sooners (27-7), who advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. They will play Texas A&M.
Melvin Johnson scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half, JeQuan Lewis scored 22 points and Michael Gilmore added 12 for VCU (25-11), which was trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since its Final Four run in 2011.
No. 3 Texas A&M 92, No. 11 Northern Illinois 88, 2 OT: Alex Caruso scored 25 points as Texas A&M overcame a 10-point deficit with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation to come back. The win puts the Aggies (28-8) in the Sweet 16 for the third time, the first since 2007.
Danuel House scored all 22 of his points in the second half and overtime, while Jalen Jones finished with 16 for Texas A&M — which has now won 10 of its last 11 games.
Jeremy Morgan had career highs of 36 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Panthers (23-13), who led 69-59 in the final minute of regulation before committing four turnovers in the final 29 seconds to spark the Aggies comeback.
No.1 Oregon 69, No. 8 Saint Joseph’s 64: Dillon Brooks refused to let top-seed Oregon and the Pac-12 Conference be eliminated on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 25 points. Oregon (29-6) was carrying the banner for the rest of the Pac-12 after the conference posted a collective dud on the opening weekend. Five teams were sent home in the first round and Utah was routed by 11th-seeded Gonzaga in the round of 32, leaving the Ducks as the lone conference representative.
And they were tested by the Hawks, rallying from down 58-51 in the final five minutes to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013. Brooks started the rally with a driving three-point play and put Oregon in front for good on a 3-pointer with 1:19 remaining.
DeAndre’ Bembry led the Hawks (28-8) with 16 points, but the Atlantic 10 tournament champs saw their postseason run ended.