Meeting for the first time in tournament history, No. 2 Wisconsin battles No. 6 Baylor in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night from Anaheim, Calif.
A win for the Badgers would mark their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2005, when they fell to eventual champion North Carolina. The winner takes on either No. 1 Arizona or No. 4 San Diego State in the West Region final.
The only six-seed to make it past the first weekend’s gauntlet, the Bears (26-11, 9-9) can make a regional final for the third time in the last four years. Baylor’s success thus far can be largely attributed to smart playmaking and taking what the defense gives rather than forcing shots.
In the second round victory over Nebraska, junior forward Royce O’Neal notched game-highs with 10 rebounds and four assists, while leaving the offense in the hands of forward Cory Jefferson, who scored 16 points. Center Isaiah Austin chipped in another 13 points and seven rebounds, going 8-for-10 from the stripe, and guard Brady Heslip scored 10 of his 12 points by going 10-for-10 from the line.
Later in the third round against Creighton, the Bears found their rhythm from beyond the arc by shooting 11-for-18 as a team from deep, and all five starters scored in the double-digits. Baylor won the rebounding battle 32-22, and held the nation’s best scorer in Doug McDermott to 15 points only 14 shot attempts.
One of three Big Ten teams left in the tournament, the Badgers (28-7, 12-6) are also one of two No. 2 seeds still standing. They quickly dispatched American with a 40-point blowout win in the second round, but faced a stiff test from Oregon in the third round.
Bo Ryan’s team was down by 12 points at halftime, but would storm back and outscore the Ducks 48-28 in the second half capped by senior guard Ben Brust’s three-pointer with just over a minute remaining in the 85-77 win. All five Badger starters reached double figures, led by junior guard Traevon Jackson’s terrific all-around line of 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Forward Frank Kaminsky added 19 points and five boards, Sam Dekker poured in 13 points and eight rebounds and Wisconsin dominated the glass with 14 offensive rebounds. However, nine uncharacteristically missed free throws could have been the Badgers downfall. For the season, Wisconsin shoots 74.4 percent from the free throw line as a team, the third best mark in the Big Ten.
Giving the Bears their due, Ryan specifically called out Baylor’s ability to manage the clock and limit an opponent’s opportunities, much like the Badgers.
“But I'll tell you what Baylor can do,” Ryan said during a press conference on Monday. “Baylor can work the shot clock too. They can hold the ball. Not hold the ball, because we don't hold the ball. We make people guard, and they make people guard. So they can play it either way, just like us."
Time: 7:47 p.m. EST
TV Channel: TBS
Online Stream Info: A live online stream can be viewed at NCAA March Madness Live here.
Prediction: Wisconsin over Baylor, 68-60