Badgers fall short on final possession in East Regional classic
Wisconsin had the opportunity it wanted with 15 seconds left, trailing top-seeded Syracuse by just one, 64-63. Everyone inside Boston's TD Garden knew the ball would wind up in Jordan Taylor's hands on the final possession.
The Orange (34-2) stepped out aggressively on Taylor early and disrupted No. 4 Wisconsin's final possession the same way they had numerous others through the game. When Taylor's heavily guarded 3-pointer barely glanced off the rim and out of Mike Bruesewitz's grasp, time expired on the season and a fantastic Badger career.
The Badgers (26-10) acquitted themselves well enough during a game many have already labeled the best of this year's tournament. Knowing they would get good looks from the outside against the zone, Wisconsin took advantage by hitting 14 of its 27 3-pointers (52%).
Syracuse did not flinch. The Orange countered by outscoring UW 30-10 in the paint to advance to the Elite Eight, denying Bo Ryan perhaps the biggest win of his Wisconsin career.
Despite scorching the nets themselves from deep, the Badgers couldn't stop Syracuse's lengthy wings from slashing to the bucket for points. The Orange made it look easy in fact. But not all of them were. Dion Waiters pulled a few step back rainbow jumpers out of his arsenal. Other times Syracuse finished drives with beautiful spin moves.
Syracuse scored 1.23 points per possession; Wisconsin posted 1.21 PPP. It was that close.
When Kris Joseph missed the front end of bonus free throws, Wisconsin got the chance it needed. First Taylor emerged from a scrum with the rebound, before getting it poked out of bounds. With one timeout remaining and his play called, Bo Ryan sent Jared Berggren hustling to scorer's table to get him back on the court for the final seconds, but Josh Gasser quickly inbounded to Taylor to kick off the final sequence.
Ryan explained that he wanted Berggren in the game for Bruesewitz if Syracuse had gone up three points, but he didn't send Berggren down until the free throw was missed.
"Who's scrappier than Mike Bruesewitz?" Ryan asked rhetorically. "Who got their hand on the ball at the end?"
Rob Wilson got his defender in the air when the play broke down, but hesitated to create contact, perhaps unwilling to take one last chance at greatness away from fellow senior Taylor.
We've been conditioned to believe that Taylor could and would make such a storybook shot. But it was not to be. He went out valiantly, hitting contested shots time after time. The senior finished 5-of-9 on 3-pointers and had 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, plus one steal and a blocked shot in his final game.
The Badgers were snakebitten in the first half by foul trouble that forced a red hot Berggren to the bench with two fouls. He played just eight minutes in the first half, exiting at the 12:03 mark with UW leading 15-9. Berggren had just scored 10 straight points for Wisconsin from inside and out. He finished perfect (3-for-3) from behind the arc and scored 17 points in just 25 minutes.
With Berggren unavailable however, Waiters knocked down two free throws to begin a 24-8 run for Syracuse. C.J. Fair had six points in a quick 15-3 run down the stretch that had Wisconsin staring down a 10-point deficit with a minute to go before halftime.
Luckily UW changed its fortune right before the break. Gasser hit two freebies after drawing contact on a 3-point attempt and then stole a pass from Scoop Jardine that led to a Taylor layup, pulling Wisconsin within six at 33-27.
The surge continued to start the second half, behind Taylor and Berggren. Taylor found Wilson for three to tie the game at 40 with 15:48 to go. But Fair again swooped in with three more buckets for Syracuse to help the Orange retake control at 48-41. The smooth 6'8" sophomore led Syracuse with 15 points and had four steals.
Jardine added 14 points and Waiters has 13. Brandon Triche sparked the Orange early, finishing with 11.
Starting at the 11-minute mark, however, Wisconsin would empty both chambers. On six straight possessions the Badgers buried 3-pointers -- two each from Taylor and Ben Brust. Gasser's trey tied the game at 53-53 and Taylor's final points in a Badger uniform gave UW a 59-56 lead with 7:05 to play.
Finally the Taylor wasn't the only one to cool off. After regaining the lead for good on two baskets by Waiters and answer a Ryan Evans jumper with two Jardine free throws, Syracuse would not score another point over the final 3:50. The Badgers tightened up the driving lanes and corralled numerous important rebounds to put themselves in position to win in the end.
"This is one of the best games I've been involved with," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said afterwards. "The best game anybody has ever played against us and didn't beat us."
Even though Wisconsin came back from the dead on two occasions, the Badgers will probably look back at missed opportunities nonetheless. The Badger made only 7-of-12 free throws and several put backs from point-blank range, including two in a row by Evans.
Despite Wisconsin holding Syracuse's leading scorer (Joseph) to seven points, the Orange shot 55% from the floor.
Offensively, the Badgers displayed perfect patience passing the ball around the perimeter and looked comfortable using the whole shot clock to probe the Syracuse zone. After all, it's the style they practiced all year. By committing only six turnovers, Wisconsin was also able to limit Syracuse's fast break opportunities.
However, the trade off to finding (and hitting) all the open 3-pointers was that none of the Badgers appeared comfortable taking a chance in the lane with the long arms of and shot-blocking ability of the Orange lurking. Wisconsin made only 7-of-22 shots inside the 3-point line.
Gasser snagged the final rebound but could only manage a wild, high-arching airball at the buzzer. No bank shot miracles this time.
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