Wisconsin roars back in second half, fights off Oregon
As an ear-splitting roar enveloped the arena, the Wisconsin Badgers pointed to their chests and strutted off the floor as if they had won a prize fight.
In a test of basketball tempos, Wisconsin delivered the knockout punch.
Ben Brust hit a 3-pointer with 1:07 left and the second-seeded Badgers returned to the Sweet 16 after overcoming No. 7 Oregon's transition game for a thrilling 85-77 win Saturday night in the NCAA tournament.
Trailing by 12 at the half, coach Bo Ryan's veteran squad didn't flinch.
"To be able to handle that smack in the face in the first half and come back and deliver one of our own says a lot about this group," Ryan said.
Brust's clutch 3 from the corner gave the Badgers (28-7) the lead for good in a clash of styles played before a boisterous pro-Wisconsin crowd at the anything-but-neutral Bradley Center.
Traevon Jackson followed Brust's shot with three free throws, but missed one with 21 seconds left to give the Ducks (24-10) one more chance to tie.
Oregon gave it to Joseph Young, who had made big shots all night and scored 29 points. But he missed a rushed 3 from the wing, and the Badgers sealed it at the foul line.
"That shot he took, no one questioned it," Oregon's Richard Amardi said about Young. "It looked good. Unfortunately it just didn't go it in when we wanted it."
The red-clad fans erupted in delight. Their beloved Badgers are back in the NCAA regional semifinals for the first time since 2012. They will play Baylor or Creighton in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday.
"Once that momentum swung, we were in trouble," Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
Frank Kaminsky led the way with 19 points, Jackson finished with 16 and Brust had 12 -- all on 3-pointers.
Left off-kilter by the Ducks transition game early and trailing by 12 at the half, the Badgers hustled back in the second half to answer the Oregon charge. After 19 points on the break in the first half, Oregon had nothing in transition after halftime.
"Do you know how many fast-break points they got in the second half? Zero." Ryan said. "Oregon, one of the quickest teams in the country, so you've got to give the players a heckuva lot of credit."
The half court sets belonged to Wisconsin. The pace played more their liking.
Buckets in the lane by Kaminsky, a jump-shooting 7-footer, and coach Ryan's gritty guards set the tone inside, and later helped open up the perimeter.
"It's tournament time and no one wants to go home," Kaminsky said. "You're doing whatever you can to stay in. If that means being physical down low with anyone -- it's a battle."
Still, as had often happened during the night, Young had an answer. His 3 from the wing with 2:50 left gave Oregon a 75-74 lead.
The Badgers hustled for two offensive rebounds on their next possession. Off a timeout, Ryan re-inserted Brust, who was saddled with four fouls.
The senior delivered in a huge spot. Young couldn't deliver one last time.
"Do whatever it takes to not make it your final game," Brust said.
Jason Calliste had 20 points for Oregon, which set the tone early with in-your-face defense and an aggressive offense.
Wisconsin found its groove by attacking the basket, a plan that has worked all year long when the team has been having problems. Dekker added 12 points and eight rebounds in another typically balanced effort.
In the first half, it was Oregon dictating tempo by setting a breakneck pace.
The Ducks quieted the Wisconsin fans in a hurry, attacking at nearly every opportunity and flustering Wisconsin. The frustration peaked when the Badgers bench was whistled for a technical foul near the end of the first half after arguing a call.
Oregon pounced in the first 20 minutes. Sometimes it was Calliste driving to the bucket to draw fouls. Other times it was Young hitting mid-range jumpers.
Then Wisconsin found its way in the second half.
Despite the disappointing ending, Oregon had regrouped quite well since a midseason stretch of eight losses in 10 games.
"We didn't get stops and we didn't rebound," forward Mike Moser said. "Simple as that."