By Sarah Berkowitz
The magic ran out for Villanova late yesterday afternoon in Buffalo as the eighth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers beat the No. 1 seeded Wildcats 65-62, in the second round to end Nova’s hopes of repeating as the national champion.
Villanova (32-4) had retained Kris Jenkins as well as Josh Hart, a contender for player of the year, from last season’s championship roster and had won the Big East season and tournament.
The Wildcats also had several younger players who had developed into top talents.
Yet they became the sixth team seeded at the top of a region to lose in the round of 32 since 2010.
Wisconsin (27-9) will play in the round of 16 on Friday at Madison Square Garden against fourth-seeded Florida, which crushed fifth-seeded Virginia, 65-39.
While Wisconsin led at the half, 31-27, the Wildcats had forced eight turnovers from a team that had averaged fewer than 11 per game. It was unsurprising when Villanova took the lead early in the second half and slowly built on it.
Donte DiVincenzo, a redshirt freshman, finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Hart, in his final game at Villanova, led with 19 points, and Jalen Brunson, the sophomore point guard, used his body and left-handedness for crafty drives and finishes, scoring 11.
“DiVincenzo was hitting some stuff, and we were like, What do you do with that? You can’t do anything,” said Wisconsin’s Jordan Hill, a redshirt junior.
Just after DiVincenzo hit a long 2-pointer and a 3-pointer on successive possessions, to give Villanova a 57-50 lead with 5:31 left, Wisconsin’s comeback began.
“From 57-50, the game really got shortened,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, referring to possessions extended by offensive rebounding and milking the shot clock — a strategy that defined Badgers basketball after Bo Ryan took over as coach in 2001, and has continued to do so in the season and a half since he retired and turned the program over to his acolyte, Greg Gard.
Hayes and Koenig each scored, while Hayes and the sophomore big man Ethan Happ contributed blocks on the other end, to make it 57-54. When Hayes drove and kicked the ball out to Koenig in the right corner and Koenig nailed a 3-pointer, the score was tied, 57-57, with 3:28 to go.
Hart made a free throw for Villanova. Happ responded with a short field goal to make it 59-58. After another Villanova free throw tied the game, 59-59, Koenig hit a 3-pointer — his third of the night, to go with the eight he had in Thursday’s win over ninth-seeded Virginia Tech — to give Wisconsin a 62-59 lead. Brunson replied with a quick layup to narrow the lead to 62-61, and DiVincenzo tied the score at 62-62 with a free throw.
After a timeout, Happ set a pick to free Hayes, who received the ball at the top right side of the 3-point line. He drove his defender, the sophomore Mikal Bridges, to the baseline, faked a spin away from the basket and then drove back along the baseline, making a reverse layup to give Wisconsin a 64-62 lead with 12 seconds left. A steal credited to the senior Vitto Brown on a drive by Hart sealed it.
After the game, Hayes said he had been inspired by a Michael Jordan move.
“I remembered there’s a Michael Jordan clip where he drives baseline and does a fake spinback and comes back — he dunked on someone,” Hayes said. “I didn’t dunk on someone, because I’m not Michael Jordan. But I was able to — by that fake, a little hesitation — come back around.”