Wisconsin overcomes fouls, turnovers to knock off defending champion Villanova

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig played much of the second half with four fouls apiece, but Wisconsin’s defense held to knock off top-seeded Villanova 65-62 Saturday afternoon.

It’s the fourth time in seven years the Wildcats have lost in the round of 32 while being seeded No. 1 or No. 2. Previous early exits came in 2015 (No. 1 seed), 2014 (No. 2 seed), and 2010 (No. 2 seed).

The Badgers turned the ball over 14 times. but shot 53.1 percent from the field as part of a complete effort against a Wildcat team that struggled from the field early on. They converted on just 30 percent of their shots in the first half. Wisconsin had double-digit efforts from four players in the win, led by Nigel Hayes’ 19 points and eight rebounds.

A problem for much of the regular season, Wisconsin struggled at the free throw line against Villanova (6-of-18, 43.8 percent), but they’ve now reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year. Wisconsin faces the winner between (5)Virginia and (4)Florida.

 

Have Mercy on the Young

I’m not surprised at the outcome of the two games last week for the Marquette Golden Eagles. It doesn’t make it easier to stomach, though. Taking on #6 Villanova in Philly and then #7 Xavier in Milwaukee wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. What makes the losses difficult to take were the moments of brilliance by the young Golden Eagles followed by the horrid display of youth.

I’ll make it easy: against ‘Nova and Xavier, Marquette went on scoring droughts that mimic near-apocalyptic events in desert regions of Africa where we see dying, starving children and want to send them milk cartons filled with coins that we saved. Against Xavier, after a brilliant start and an 18-6 lead, we watched the Golden Eagles score zero points for 8 minutes and Xavier go on a 21-0 run.

No change in a milk carton can help the starving Golden Eagles with that.

We also watched the 1-3-1 zone from Xavier befuddle Marquette for most of the game as none of Marquette’s guards could feed the ball into Luke Fischer or Henry Ellenson after getting 10 of their first 12 that way in the first half; remember, that’s Marquette’s plan each and every game since the Golden Eagles have no outside shooting game. For some perspective on that, Marquette shot 24-70 for the game against Xavier, 4 for 25 from behind the three-point line.

You read that right. Making matters worse, more than half of those three-point shots were wide open.

“The really tough teams don’t make excuses when they are not making shots,” Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “We may not be that good of a shooting team. We have to figure out ways to win when we are not making shots. That’s the end of the story.”

Fischer getting 3 fouls in the first half didn’t help much since he had to sit from the five minute mark on. He eventually fouled out. We did see moments of brilliance from him when the ball could be fed to him, but he was overpowered by Xavier Senior forward James Farr. Marquette lost 74-66.

Ellenson did manage 20 points in the game and we did see a huge spark from his brother Wally who had a career game coming off the bench; in 20 minutes he had 9 points and 8 rebounds. Xavier did manage 15 turnovers and Marquette did show it could hang with the big boys…it wasn’t a blowout. Marquette also went into the half against ‘Nova last week up one point only to get stuck in a scoring drought as well.

Look, ‘Nova and Xavier are possible Final Four teams. I would have been more shocked if Marquette had beaten either of them. Luckily, DePaul comes to the Bradley Center Wednesday. I’ll be shocked if Marquette blows that one.