BUFFALO — Wisconsin came into this NCAA Tournament looking for one more run among teammates who have been together for a long time. The eighth-seeded Badgers earned themselves at least one more round, holding off No. 9 Virginia Tech down the stretch Thursday night and winning, 84-74.
Bronson Koenig, a senior who has been part of the postseason success during the past four years, led the Badgers with 28 points and shot 8-for-17 on three-pointers. Classmate Nigel Hayes had 16 points and 10 rebounds as Wisconsin (26-9) advanced to a matchup here Saturday with defending national champion Villanova.
For Wisconsin, this was familiar ground. The Badgers were banking on their experience — 19 NCAA Tournaments in a row, 14 games in the previous three years.
“When I was from zero to 23 or 24, the Badgers were never in the NCAA Tournament, so to come through that span of your lifetime and never see Wisconsin in an NCAA Tournament, it obviously has a special meaning right now,” coach Greg Gard said. “My kids know no different. I have a 15-, 13- and 8-year-old and they’ve never seen an NCAA Tournament without Wisconsin in it.”
Virginia Tech (22-11), on the other hand, is starting a new era under Buzz Williams, in his third year as coach. Tech had been to The Big Dance only once (2007) since 1996.
The oddity of the second half was that Tech, the smaller squad, was scoring consistently inside, mostly by Zach LeDay. After LeDay fouled out, he hugged Williams to mark the progress they had made.