Preview: Tourney-tested Badgers look to start fast vs. Villanova

Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes is pressured by Virginia Tech Hokies guard Ty Outlaw and guard Justin Robinson.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jay Wright isn’t sure why his Villanova team played so poorly at the start of its first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Mount St. Mary.

“I really don’t have time to figure it out,” Wright said after the East Region No. 1 seed Wildcats surged in the second half to defeat the 16-seed Mountaineers. “The beauty of the tournament is, if this was the season, I’d say, all right, we got to address this right now. I gotta say we gotta forget about it and we gotta get ready for the winner of this game.”

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The winner of that game was No. 8 seed Wisconsin, who outlasted 9-seed Virginia Tech 84-74 late Thursday night setting up a second-round matchup between the 2016 national champions and the 2015 runner-up on Saturday at KeyBank Center.

Villanova didn’t score for the first 6:06 against Mount St. Mary’s and only led for 46 seconds of the first half — setting the scene for the first 16-seed Cinderella story of March Madness — before settling in and playing like the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in the second half en route to a 72-52 victory.

Can the Wildcats survive another slow start against a Badgers team that is tournament tested?

“No, no,” Wright said. “And I think they know that, you know? But that’s still not an excuse for not coming to play. But again it’s on all of us. It’s on our leadership. It’s on me. That’s just part of it, man. We’re lucky to advance. We’re lucky, and I think we’ll put it behind us and I think we’ll get ready.”

Wisconsin got better as its first-round game went along too, but not so dramatically. The Badgers held the lead for 35 minutes, but was as slim as one-point several times in the second half and didn’t reach double digits until the very end.

Bronson Koenig hit big shots for the Badgers throughout the game, making a school-record eight 3-pointers and finishing with a career-high 28 points.

“You can definitely say I was looking for my shot,” Koenig said. “It’s something I take pride in, being a senior point guard, is making plays in critical moments. And I knew when they kept cutting it to one that I was going to have to make some type of play, so I was just trying to be as aggressive as possible.”

Wisconsin is the only team that has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in each the last three years.

“I think it definitely helped a lot for us to have the holder guys that we have and have been through some of the runs we’ve had in the tournament,” said senior Nigel Hayes, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia Tech. “I think when you have that experience, you’re able to relax a little more and you can go out and break school records.”