The Wisconsin Badgers are still dancing.
The Badgers hung on in the final moments of Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup against North Carolina, hitting 8-of-8 free throws in the waning seconds to hang on to a 79-72 win and advance to the Elite Eight.
The Badgers, led by a career-high 23 points from Sam Dekker, advance to their second straight Elite Eight, and will play the winner of Arizona and Xavier.
Behind Dekker’s 23 points and 10 boards, Kaminsky added 19 points and 8 boards, Nigel Hayes added 12 points and Bronson Koenig scored nine. Josh Gasser hit a pair of threes, Zak Showalter scored 6 points off the bench, and Traevon Jackson added 4 points in his first action in after missing 19 games.
Once again Wisconsin struggled to shoot in the first half. Kaminsky went 2-7, Nigel Hayes went 1-6 and Bronson Koenig missed all 6 of his first half attempts.
Good thing Dekker had his game face on, as the junior went 6-of-8 in the first half, scoring 15 points to keep the Badgers in it as North Carolina shot 50 percent (14 of 28) from the field on the way to a 33-31 halftime lead. Ten different Tar Heels players scored at least a point in the first half.
In Traevon Jackson’s return to the court for Wisconsin, the senior played a few minutes in the first half – knocking down a big three seconds into his first step onto the court. He played important minutes down the stretch for Wisconsin, as well.
In the end, Dekker and Kaminsky carried Wisconsin to the victory, and the Badgers hit their last 8 free throws to secure the 79-72 victory.
The Badgers looked a little rushed out of the gate, and North Carolina took an early 4-0 lead on two fast break buckets. Dekker hit a three-pointer to put Wisconsin on the board; Kaminsky found Gasser for another three moments later and the Badgers took a 6-4 lead into the under-16 timeout.
J.P. Tokoto tied it out of the break, and minutes later, Jackson entered the game for the first time and immediately buried a three to put Wisconsin back up 9-6. Justin Jackson tied it up with a three for the Tar Heels moments later.
Hayes put the Badgers up 11-9 on a drive and dunk, but Joel James answered with a jumper to tie it at 11-all, a score that held to the under-12 timeout.
Paige put up his first points of the game – a three out of the break – but Dekker answered back with a baseline dunk, making the score 14-13 in favor of the Tar Heels.
North Carolina opened up a 19-15 lead before Kaminsky finally got on the board with less than 9 minutes to play, and Wisconsin trailed 19-17 heading into the under-8 break.
After a Tar Heel free throw, Hayes hit a pair and Dekker went on a 6-0 run by himself. Brice Johnson scored 4 points around a Kaminsky layup, sparking an 11-1 North Carolina to put the Tar Heels up 33-28 with just over a minute to play in the half.
Koenig was fouled moments later knocked and down the front end of a bonus attempt to make the score 33-29,but as the final seconds of the half ticked away, Dekker tapped in a Koenig miss to bring the Badgers within 2 points at 33-31
Cincy on the Prowl
Brice Johnson broke into double figures with a quick basket to open the half, but Kaminsky answered right back with a drive to the hoop. Justin Jackson added a bucket for North Carolina, but Kaminsky again drove the lane, drew foul No. 3 on Meeks, and knocked down a pair of free throws. Brice Johnson picked up foul No. 3 on the next possession, and a Koenig three put Wisconsin up 38-37.
Mar 26, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forwardFrank Kaminsky
(44) reacts to an injury suffered against North Carolina Tar Heels during the second half in the semifinals of the west regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
North Carolina opened up a 49-44 lead, and foul troubles continued for both teams as Hayes picked up his third. Kaminsky was shaken by an inadvertent blow to the head as Isaiah Hicks pushed the Tar Heels’ lead to 53-46. Kaminsky returned to the court after a brief break on the bench.
Koenig picked up his fourth foul, and Zak Showalter entered the game. After a Tar Heel bucket, the fouling continued as Brice Johnson earned his fourth foul, leading to two Kaminsky free throws and a 55-54 North Carolina lead with about 8 to play.
Meeks knocked down a pair of free throws before Showalter drove down the center of the lane for a deuce. After the Tar Heels hit three of four free throws, Kaminsky drained a three; Showalter hit another layup, then grabbed a steal and scored on a fast break to put Wisconsin up 63-60. Dekker continued the run, driving for two as the Tar Heels called timeout with Wisconsin streaking on a 9-0 run, leading 65-60 with just over five minutes to play.
Final five minutes
Justin Jackson continued his hot play for North Carolina, knocking down another three out of the break, and a UNC free throw pulled it within a point with 4 minutes remaining.
“Captain America” Josh Gasser knocked down his second three of the game to push the lead to 4, and with 2:49 to play, Traevon Jackson drove and drew a foul, and made 1 of 2 free throws to make it a 69-64 game.
With under two to play, Paige knocked down three with Gasser all up in his face, closing the gap to 69-67. As the one-minute mark approached, Dekker worked his way in for a hoop to put Wisconsin up 71-67. Paige again knocked down a three, this time over the top of Kaminsky, and once again the lead was one – 71-70 – with less than a minute on the clock.
Koenig, back in the game, was fouled and made it a 73-70 game with a pair of clutch free throws. A loose ball in the paint turned into a Wisconsin foul with 33.4 seconds left, but Isaiah Hicks clanked both shots on a double-bonus, and Koenig tracked down the rebound.
The Badgers killed 12 seconds, and with 23.0 on the clock, Hayes was fouled, and hit both double-bonus shots to put the Badgers up 75-70. Koenig was called for a foul – his fifth – on a Joel Berry II drive. He hit both free throws, and the score was 75-72 with 16.7 remaining.
Kaminsky caught the in-bounds pass and was immediately fouled, and hit two free throws. Paige air-balled a three-pointer, and with 7.2 on the clock, held a 77-72 lead. Kaminsky again fielded the in-bounds pass and again hit both free throws, and Wisconsin secured the 79-72 win.
The Badgers went 8-8 from the line in the final seconds, and advanced to the Elite Eight.