The big moment in the biggest game of the season came when Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan needed to make a big substitution.
He looked to his bench… And then he looked further down. There was no drumroll, because it might have been a little anticlimactic when Zak Showalter, a redshirt sophomore guard who doesn’t exactly play big minutes, checked in at the scorers table.
But midway through the second half of Thursday’s NCAA West Region semifinal game between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 4 North Carolina at the Staples Center, Bronson Koenig was charged with his fourth foul. Instead of using Traevon Jackson, who isn’t 100 percent healthy in Los Angeles this week, he tabbed Showalter.
The move paid off: Showalter he dished, he swiped one, grabbed a key rebound and made three straight layups to ultimately give the Badgers a lead they would not relinquish.
Not bad for a kid near the end of the bench.
"We wouldn’t have won the game without Showy’s two-minute or one-minute span and those plays he made for us," said forward Nigel Hayes. "If he wouldn’t have done that, we probably wouldn’t be talking about the win right now.
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Showalter was a camp kid, always participating in Ryan’s camps with his dad, Steve, who played for Ryan in college and is the varsity coach at Germantown High School. But it was mostly the mid-majors that were after Showalter, so he walked on at Wisconsin. His decision was largely based on March Madness, a dream now realized.
"I wanted to play on the biggest stages, like this," he said. "How many kids get to have this opportunity and make big plays on the biggest stage?"
Showalter jumped into the lead reserve role after Jackson went down with a foot injury. He might not have even played in March if Jackson was healthy since Ryan doesn’t typically use more than a seven- or eight-man rotation. But it’s at eight now, as Showalter has showed that he’s a gamer.
"If you’re going to win in March, you’ve got to have guys make big plays," he said. "I think 1-8 tonight did."
The walk-on gets his "One Shining Moment". It’s a typical March tale, but it never really gets old. But that’s the thing about walk-ons, and especially one that has been familiar with Wisconsin’s system practically his entire life: Just when they need it the most, their basketball instincts take over.
In March, you need those instincts more than ever.
"That’s just that second nature in March. You know what the situation is every time you’re on the court," Showalter said. "That just comes with playing from the time that we were five years old. So you know the situation, you’ve got to make big plays and I think we were able to do that tonight."