It required a second half rally, contributions from a two unexpected bench players, and a career night for a rising star to push the Wisconsin Badgers past North Carolina, 79-72, and into the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8 for a second consecutive year.
Junior Sam Dekker scored a career-best 23 points (10-for-15) to go along with ten rebounds, while Zak Showalter and Traevon Jackson combined for ten points off the bench in the Badgers third Sweet 16 win under coach Bo Ryan. Jackson was playing in his first game after missing 19 games with a broken foot. The senior hit his first shot of the game, a three-pointer from the corner in the first half.
The top seed in the West Region fell behind early and trailed by as much as seven in the second half against the fourth-seeded Tar Heels, but a 19-7 run put the Badgers in front for good. The run included a three-pointer by Frank Kaminsky and four consecutive points from Showalter.Kaminsky, who struggled in the first half with four points on 2-of-7 shooting, finished with 19 points. Nigel Hayes pitched in with a dozen as both teams shot 46-percent from the field. Wisconsin made 9-of-10 free throws over the final 2 minutes, 49 seconds to secure the win and finished 20-of-23 (87%).
The win not only extends Wisconsin’s program record for wins in a season to 34, it also sets up a rematch of last year’s West Region Final in Anaheim that saw the Badgers top then top-seeded Arizona in overtime. The Wildcats beat Xavier, 68-60, to advance to Saturday’s showdown at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The game will begin at 5:09pm (TBS).