NCAA tournament second round: Badgers 66, Xavier 63

NCAA tournament second round: Badgers 66, Xavier 63

March 20, ScottTrade Center in St. Louis

Season record: 22-12

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ST. LOUIS – Ninety-six days after its season was turned upside down, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team strolled into the Scottrade Center Sunday night with a chance to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Only six teams in the nation could say they’ve been to the Sweet Sixteen in four of the previous five seasons, a group that includes the Badgers.

After UW got a brilliant performance from junior point guard Bronson Koenig in a 66-63 upset of Xavier in a second-round game, there’s only one team that can say it’s going to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six seasons.

On, Wisconsin, indeed.

Koenig made two 3-pointers in the final 11.7 seconds – including the game-winner as time expired – to finish with a game-high 20 points. He helped UW use a 17-5 closing run to erase a nine-point deficit over the final 5 minutes, 59 seconds of the game.

“I let it fly and I knew it was going in,” Koenig said of his winning shot, which came right in front of the UW bench. “I can’t really explain the feeling after I hit it.”

Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ added 18 points for the seventh-seeded Badgers (22-12), who will meet sixth-seeded Notre Dame (23-11) in an East regional semifinal Friday at 6:27 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

It’s another remarkable achievement for a team that was 7-5 when Bo Ryan abruptly retired on Dec. 15.

Longtime assistant Greg Gard took over the program, made some changes and, after working through some kinks early in his tenure, guided an amazing turnaround.

The Badgers now have won 13 of their last 16 games – they were 9-9 after a 70-65 loss at Northwestern on Jan. 12 – and are within two victories of reaching the Final Four for the third consecutive season.

“That’s what our program has kind of been built on – just finding a way to win, no matter how pretty it is, and tonight was another example of that,” Badgers junior guard Zak Showalter said. “We just grinded it out, made big plays when it counts. I think those struggles early in the season really prepared us for this moment. And we’re going to keep going here.”

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