PHILADELPHIA — It might just as easily have been Xavier advancing to the Sweet 16 to meet Stephen F. Austin in the East Regional on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center, but Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and Notre Dame freshman Rex Pflueger provided the highlight-reel winning baskets that are the stuff of NCAA Tournament lore to advance.
Koenig actually made back-to-back three-pointers, one to tie the score with 13 seconds left and one to win it at the buzzer, to lift the Badgers (22-12) past second-seeded Xavier, 66-63. But it was the improbable winning step-back, fadeaway three from the right corner that caused all the excitement.
It’s a shot Koenig has practiced the past three years in one-on-one games against teammate Nigel Hayes. “The rule is that neither of us could go to the basket, so we have to shoot all jump shots,” Koenig said yesterday. “It’s pretty tough to get it over his outstretched arms. So that’s one of the shots I have to perfect if I want to beat him, which I do most of the time.”
As a starter on last season’s national runner-up, Koenig was well-prepared for his star turn. Freshman reserve Pflueger, whose tip-in with 1.5 seconds left gave the Irish (23-11) a 76-75 win over Stephen F. Austin, was in a cameo role when fate found him after misses by Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste.
As a beach volleyball player from California, Pflueger was perfectly suited to the moment, but he had missed one like it a year earlier in a high school playoff game for Mater Dei. “It’s been amazing,” Pflueger said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that big. I knew it was cool that we won the game, but all the notoriety that’s come with it is kind of shell-shocking.”
Recalling his high school miss, Pflueger added, “I’ve always lived with that moment and kind of regretted it. So this is pretty special and kind of ironic.”