BOISE, Idaho -- The game between Xavier and Wisconsin was destined to come down to the team that played the best defense, and it was the Musketeers who are headed back to the Sweet 16 after a slog of a game.
Xavier went eight minutes without a field in the first half, but in the second they held the Badgers without a bucket for nine minutes and went on a 10-0 run of their own that was the difference in a 60-49 victory.
"Wisconsin's a great defensive team. We did a good job defending them and they did a good job defending us," forward B.J. Raymond said. "We focused on the right end of the floor, the defensive end, and that got us back in the game [in the second half].
Added Xavier coach Sean Miller: "Today's game was about who we are as a team. We played terrific halfcourt defense and we wore them down with our depth and our size."
1. Slow almost beat fast again. Xavier nearly fell victim to the methodical halfcourt pace the Badgers prefer. Xavier averaged 72.4 per game during the regular season, yet stood at 25 points at halftime and finished 12 below their average. Still, the Musketeers defense was as effective, holding the Badgers to 15 below their average.
2. Wisconsin died by the three-pointer. Wisconsin was looked upon as more of a perimeter threat but the Badgers made only three of 20 attempts (15 percent)while Xavier hit on six of 14 (42 percent). The Musketeers defense on Wisconsin's Jason Bohannon (one for seven from three-point rage) was particularly key.
3. Sean Miller can work the refs. During that stretch in the first half when Xavier went nine minutes without a field goal, the officials called numerous fouls on both ends that left Miller shaking his head. It was an inconsistent performance by the men in stripes, and Miller let them know. "My guys play hard to!" Miller screamed over and over. After one particularly egregious offensive foul call against one of his players, Miller shouted at the ref, "Now call it that way down here!" and pointed to Xavier's end of the court.
B.J. Raymond. No one player had a stellar offensive game for Xavier, but Raymond (who finished with a team-high 15 points) hit a clutch three-pointer with 4:23 that put Xavier up 49-41, which proved to be a turning point in the game.
Three minutes into the game, Xavier freshman center Kenny Frease, who resembles actor David Keith (Richard Gere's buddy in An Officer and a Gentleman), lost his gum while going up for a layup in traffic. He quickly bent over, picked up the gum, and plopped it back into his mouth. Apparently the 10-second rule applies in the NCAA Tournament.
Miller will be leading Xavier against his alma mater, Pittsburgh, in the Sweet 16 in Boston. The Panthers are more talented, but the Musketeers' depth and defense give it a chance.