Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 18, 2016
Clank! Clank! Clank! It wasn?t pretty. In fact, at times, it was downright ugly with a combined 66 missed shots doting the St. Louis skyline. But to No. 7 Wisconsin, its 47-43 win over No. 10 Pitt was a thing of beauty.
Style points don?t matter in what was the third-lowest scoring NCAA game in the shot clock era, as the teams combined for just 90 points. Want more ugliness? This was the first time a team won an NCAA game by scoring fewer than 50 points since 2003. (The last team to score 47 points and win an NCAA tournament game was 2003 Butler vs. Mississippi State, 47-46.)
The Badgers are onto the Round of 32 after playing in the Final Four each of the last two years-including a trip to the title game last season. Wisconsin had a clunker of an effort in the Big Ten title game, falling to Nebraska. But the Badgers have gone 12-3 since a 9-9 start and looks to be back on track. This is a resourceful and well-coached team that usually finds a way to win ? like it did today.
The star: Ethan Happ, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Who saw this guy blossoming like this back in October? No one, as pundits fawned over Big Ten freshmen like Maryland?s Diamond Stone, Purdue?s Caleb Swanigan, Michigan State?s Deyonta Davis and Ohio State?s JaQuan Lyle. But Happ was the best. And he came up big for Wisconsin today, hitting 6-of-8 shots for 15 points with nine rebounds and three assists. That was huge, because Nigel Hayes hit just 3-of-17 shots and Bronson Koenig connected on 1-of-8 to combine for 14 points.
The stat: 12, offensive rebounds for Wisconsin compared to just seven for Pitt. Those second-chances proved to be key for the Badgers in this tight game between two defensive-minded teams.
The key to victory: Not turning over the ball. Wisconsin had just six turnovers. And it also committed just 11 fouls, as the Badgers erased a 22-16 halftime hole by outscoring Pitt 31-21 in the second half.
It was over when: Pitt led, 40-39, with 3:55 to go. That is when Vitto Brown nailed a 3-pointer with 2:37 left to give the Badgers a 42-40 lead. And it was an edge Wisconsin would not relinquish. But Pitt had a chance to win after Nigel Hayes missed badly on a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left and Wisconsin up 44-43. Alas, the Panthers? James Robinson missed a jumper in the lane and the Badgers rebounded to kill Pitt?s chance.
What?s next: Teams held below 50 points had lost 72 straight games in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers bucked that trend. For the ninth time in 10 years, Wisconsin has won its first NCAA game. The Badgers will take on the winner of No. 2 Xavier vs. No. 15 Weber State for a shot at the Sweet 16.