Wisconsin defeated North Carolina 79-72 Thursday in an up-and-down contest featuring quick scoring to advance to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight for the second consecutive year. Sam Dekker scored a career-high 23 points and Wooden Award candidate Frank Kaminsky poured in 19 for the Badgers, ending North Carolina’s streak of 11 consecutive wins in Sweet 16 games.
The first half featured four lead changes, punctuated by offensive bursts from the Badgers’ Sam Dekker, who had 15 first-half points, and a Traevon Jackson three-pointer in his first shot attempt since returning to action after a 10-week hiatus rehabbing a foot injury.
Wisconsin, which only allowed eight fast-break points in its first two NCAA tournament games combined, allowed four of them right off the bat as the teams traded leads and the Tar Heels helped set a blistering tone early.
Brice Johnson led a hot North Carolina shooting half as the Tar Heels hit 50% (14-28) from the field in the first, including making 4 of 7 from three-point range. The Badgers only managed 37% from the field in the opening half.
While the Badgers have the fifth slowest adjusted tempo in the country, according to kenpom.com, North Carolina is one of the nation’s fastest teams in the country. Wisconsin played at the Tar Heels’ pace in the first half and North Carolina took a 33-31 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Wisconsin drew fouls on the Tar Heels, getting three on Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks within the opening minutes of the second half. But North Carolina continued to play aggressively, frustrating Wisconsin with man-to-man defense and answering the Badgers when they did score.
North Carolina extended the lead to seven points with 11 minutes left in the game on an Isaiah Hicks lay-up, the incidental contact of which sent Kaminsky momentarily to the ground. Then the Badgers turned on the jets. A Bronson Koenig three-pointer and a Nigel Hayes juke and subsequent lay-in and free throw cut a seven-point North Carolina lead to one.
Shortly thereafter, a 9-0 Wisconsin run sparked by two Zak Showalter drives and a Kaminsky three-pointer turned a 60-56 North Carolina lead into a 65-60 Wisconsin advantage with 5:11 left.
A Marcus Paige three-pointer with 1:39 remaining brought the Tar Heels to within two points. North Carolina made four consecutive three-pointers in the second half.
Dekker, whose game was peppered with running-back-style drives to the basket, added a lay-in with one minute remaining to put Wisconsin up 73-69.
But Paige answered with another three-pointer for North Carolina that brought the lead back to one. Hicks, shooting free throws for North Carolina with his team down 73-70, missed both shots from the charity stripe. Wisconsin rebounded and managed to run 10 seconds off the clock before North Carolina could foul to stop the clock. Wisconsin made two ensuing free throws to seal the game.