OMAHA, Neb. — In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance building toward tipoff for the ultimate long shot to demolish a nation’s brackets, there stood Coastal Carolina’s teal-fuzzed mascot — Chauncey the Chanticleer — holding a sign near a baseline that brimmed with equal parts optimism and hilarity.
Cixteen Ceed Upset.
It was clever and amusing, yes. It was also a near impossibility given that no 16 seed had ever beaten a 1 seed since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
And though the Chanticleers provided glimmers of what may someday come to fruition, No. 1 seed Wisconsin ultimately buried 16th-seeded Coastal Carolina, 86-72, on Friday night at CenturyLink Center to advance to the Round of 32. UW (32-3) will play No. 8 seed Oregon (26-9) after the Ducks defeated Oklahoma State, 79-73. The teams will meet Sunday at approximately 6:45 p.m. CT in a rematch of last year’s second-round game for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles.
When the final horn sounded Friday, Wisconsin had put the finishing touches on one of the more remarkable streaks of futility in sports. Dating to that ’85 tournament, 16 seeds are now 0-124 against top seeds, and they will all have to wait another year for an opportunity to change that mark.
Wisconsin, on a quest to prove itself as the best team in program history, was too tall, too tough and too talented as 20-point favorites. And no measure of Coastal Carolina’s hot shooting could deny the Badgers, whose frontcourt of 7-foot Frank Kaminsky, 6-9 Sam Dekker and 6-8 Nigel Hayes combined for 62 points on 24-of-41 field-goal shooting. The Chanticleers, meanwhile, did not have a player on the floor taller than 6-8, and it showed, as the Badgers scored 40 points in the paint.
"I think the major difference between a 1 and a 16 is probably size," Badgers guard Josh Gasser said. "Every team has good guards. But when you have the front line that we have, you’ve got to take advantage of it, so we definitely wanted to pound the ball inside. Nigel, Frank and Sam all played pretty well. They got some easy buckets just because of their size. So why not go at it?"
Added Kaminsky: "Forty points in the paint, that’s pretty good, and hopefully that will be a staple of our team in the tournament."
A year ago, Coastal Carolina reached the NCAA tournament as a 16 seed and led No. 1 seed Virginia by five points at halftime, was tied with less than nine minutes remaining and ultimately lost by 11 points. That experience provided Chanticleers players with hope they could pull off one of the most stunning upsets in tournament history when given a second chance. At the same time, however, it also caught the attention of Wisconsin’s entire team.
"Let me be real honest with you," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "If Coastal Carolina is a 16 seed, really, we have 68 teams playing now, not 64, so I would say anything from 12 to what they call 16, I would match those teams up any time. I just think it’s for publicity. It’s for the conversation. It sells."
For stretches on Friday, Coastal Carolina proved Ryan’s quibble to be true because the Chanticleers played far better than their seed indicated. Chanticleers guard Josh Cameron, a Racine, Wis., native whose motivation to perform well against a team that did not recruit him was particularly strong, outscored the Badgers all by himself early in the game with eight consecutive points. His straight-on 3-pointer from 25 feet put Coastal Carolina ahead 8-7 with 14:56 left, and the Chanticleers had little trouble scoring in the first half.
Coastal Carolina’s guard rotation of Cameron, Warren Gillis and Elijah Wilson finished the game with a combined 53 points and made 21 of 39 shots. The rest of the team scored 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting.
"I was thinking that it was probably going to be someone," Gasser said. "We had talked about those three guards that any of them could kind of go off at any time. We reiterated that all way. They kind of traded off spurts of who was going to take the shots and stuff like that. Any time you go one-on-one like that and you can score, you have the freedom to score, it’s tough to guard."
But what has made Wisconsin’s offense so dangerous all season is its devastating level of efficiency and wealth of scoring talent. Kaminsky — who finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds — converted a layup off a spin move 33 seconds after Cameron’s go-ahead 3 to put Wisconsin in front 9-8. And for the next 34 minutes, 29 seconds of game action, the Badgers continued to build that lead.
When Hayes drilled a 3 from the left wing to boost Wisconsin’s advantage to 35-24 with 4:52 remaining in the first half, Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis turned to associate head coach Benny Moss and muttered, "They can score no matter what."
Moss replied: "We’ve just got to keep changing it until we find something that works."
No manner of defensive changes, however, could alter Wisconsin’s path in the big dance despite Coastal Carolina hitting 48.3 percent of its field goals, including 7 of 12 3-pointers in the game.
"We shot close to 50 percent, and you can’t ask for much better than that," Cameron said. "It was those three big men. We couldn’t keep them off the glass, and they just hurt us down low. They really hurt us. If you look at the stat sheet, they had basically all their points, so they killed us down there."
Afterward, there was little celebration from Wisconsin’s players. If anything, a subtle sense of relief permeated the locker room. No. 1 had escaped No. 16 again. But this NCAA tournament run, players believe, has only begun.
"We have bigger goals in mind," Badgers forward Duje Dukan said. "This is one step. We’re planning on taking care of business all the way."