22.3.16

NEVER OUT OF IT.

Sunday evening, Wisconsin's basketball team played Xavier's in the round of 32.  Going into the game, Xavier looked, on paper, like a prohibitive favorite.  With six minutes and change to play, Xavier was leading by nine points.  Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds had batted a loose ball to himself in such a way as to get a One Shining Moment clip out of a breakaway dunk, and Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes went to the bench with his fourth foul.

Xavier head coach Chris Mack's two young daughters were demonstrating shooting moves from the Nicholson seats.

Xavier assistant coach Luke Murray's father, actor Bill Murray, was deputising as Jack Nicholson.

There were six minutes to play in the game.
[Wisconsin center Ethan ] Happ attacked the rim, drew a foul and sank a couple of free throws. [Bronson] Koenig did likewise. Happ then poked the ball loose for a steal and Zak Showalter converted on a run-out.

Xavier 59, Wisconsin 55.

"We're never out of it," Showalter said of the team's mindset while rallying. "We've been in games where the situation looked even worse for us and we pulled it out. We had to get something quick. It's a credit to Ethan. He initiated that. I saw an alley and took it."
A similar Showalter run-out started a Wisconsin rally in the opening game against Pitt. That rally went on for about ten minutes.  This rally had to be faster.
With 2:09 remaining, Happ scored on a put-back. Hayes cut into the deficit some more by making one of two free throws before Sumner got loose for another layup with 31 seconds left.

Xavier 63, Wisconsin 60.

"At the beginning of the year," Showalter said, "we were in a lot of close games that we didn't pull out. Now we're comfortable in these situations and we just find a way."
In one of those games, Maryland's Melo Trimble broke a tie with a three-point basket from far outside the arc.  Buzzer beater.
With 14 seconds left, Koenig drained a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Xavier 63, Wisconsin 63.
Talented team, lots of height, ball in the hands of a clutch player.
Just about everybody knew that Xavier would keep the ball in the hands of [guard Edmond] Sumner, who has blow-by explosiveness to the rim. [Jordan] Hill attempted to simulate him on the scout team.

"That dude is so fast," Hill said. "It's hard to believe that he's that quick."

But Showalter had guarded him from the start of the game, tagging off with Hill when he needed a breather. So he had a good feel for his speed and athleticism.

A handful of possessions earlier, Showalter had drawn Xavier's leading scorer, Trevon Bluiett, on a switch and Bluiett had beaten him off the bounce but missed a layup.

"When we had a timeout," said [assistant coach Lamont] Paris, who compiled the scouting report on the Musketeers, "I told Showy, "You were playing him (Bluiett) on the wrong side. He drove and missed but we've got to play those guys on their right hand."

That's what Showalter would do against Sumner on Xavier's final offensive possession.

"He was going right all game," Showalter said. "I anticipated it. I knew he was going to try and attack with his right hand so I just tried to take that away the best I could it and luckily it paid off."

Sumner and Showalter collided and Sumner was called for the charge.

"Showy timed it right and got hit right in the chest, that was a charge," emphasized Hill, who has been victimized by Showalter in practice that same way. "It's really annoying actually."
Not so annoying for Xavier as what came next.
[Wisconsin coach Greg] Gard was contemplating calling a timeout immediately following the foul on Sumner.

"But Nigel came running over to me and said, 'Hey, let's advance it and then take it,'" Gard related. "I said, 'All right, we'll do that.'"

How many head coaches would be too stubborn to listen to a player in that situation?

"We obviously have a better chance of shooting the ball on our side of the court than theirs," Hayes said. "So I sprinted over to him (Gard) and said, 'Don't call it, don't call it.'"

Gard listened. It's one of his strengths. Happ inbounded to Koenig, who dribbled into the front court and called the timeout with 2 seconds on the clock.

"When we were drawing up the play (in the huddle)," Hayes said, "we were all like, 'This shot is going in. One of us is going to make this basket; whether it's Bronson or myself, the ball is going in.'"

Just before play resumed, Hayes and Koenig crossed paths on the floor. Both smiled.
Final Four experience at work.  Plus, when the defense double-teams somebody, there's somebody open.
The Badgers had a couple of options on the final possession. Hayes was one of them.

"I was going to try and catch the ball in the 15-foot area," Hayes explained, "and try to either turnaround or quick drive to draw a foul and get to the free throw line."

But Xavier doubled Hayes with [Trevon] Bluiett and Myles Davis.

Koenig went up to Happ, the inbounder, and told him that he wanted the ball.

"Pass to me if I'm open," he said.

Hayes had also approached Happ with the same wish.

"That's something special," Happ said, "to have two leaders that want the ball when it's crunch time."

Happ had a passing lane along the boundary and fed the ball to Koenig, who darted into the right corner and launched a shot over Remy Abell, a former Indiana Hoosier and Xavier's best defender.
Excitement for UW; distress for Xavier.

Now comes a regional with a lot of basketball tradition.  Indiana plays North Carolina, Notre Dame plays Wisconsin.

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