OMAHA, Neb. -- Heading into Sunday's NCAA third-round matchup with Oregon, Wisconsin was hoping history would repeat itself. The Badgers certainly got their wish, and a bit more than they bargained for.
Oregon (26-10) matched Wisconsin blow-for-blow throughout the night, thanks in large part to the 30 points scored by senior guard Joseph Young, who had 29 in last year's tournament matchup with the Badgers, another hard-fought affair. But after the Ducks tied the game at 52-52 with 5:54 left, Wisconsin (33-3) ran off six straight points and finished the game on a 20-13 run to close out a 72-65 win, punching another ticket to the Sweet 16.
Wisconsin will face No. 4 seed North Carolina in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Although the Ducks never held a lead and only had the score tied for a total of 1:03, the Badgers were never able to get comfortable. After an early 11-point lead, Wisconsin found itself in a battle the rest of the night, never able to shake an Oregon team that played some of its best basketball of the season.
"The guys found a way to stay in the ball game," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "We played awfully hard and were aggressive. We just didn't finish a few plays that we had to make down the stretch."
The Badgers did not play their best basketball by any stretch of the imagination, but they are moving on, something fellow top-two seeds Villanova, Kansas and Virginia were unable to do.
"The tournament is not always going to be pretty," Wisconsin sophomore guard Bronson Koenig. "But it's just about surviving and advancing."
The Badgers got exactly the start they were looking for. Wisconsin scored 16 points on its first 11 possessions and built a 20-9 lead midway through the first half with Young still scoreless and 0-for-5 from the field. But after a Wisconsin missed free throw, Young drilled a tough three that sparked a 19-11 Oregon run including 14 points of his own and cut the deficit to just three at the half.
"We established a good lead in the first half, but as a good team always does, they're going to come out and make a run," UW junior forward Sam Dekker said. "The good teams are the ones that can respond to those runs."
Wisconsin responded out of the halftime break, rolling off five quick points to build an eight-point cushion. But again Oregon countered, scoring four straight to cut the lead in half and dispelling any notion the Badgers had of pulling away early.
Wisconsin was unable to do so largely because of Oregon's defensive effort against Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky, arguably the frontrunner for national player of the year honors. After scoring seven points in the first 7:18, Kaminsky went scoreless for a stretch of 15:03 that let the Ducks cut the deficit to four.
"I thought our guys really slid their feet and did a pretty good job of taking away easy baskets from him," Altman said. "Our defensive effort was pretty good."
After weathering another Oregon storm, Wisconsin responded, pushing the lead back to eight points with 10:46 left. Just like it has seemed for several of UW's big wins, it was a contribution from the sometimes-thin bench that dug the Badgers out of a hole. This time, it was a run of five straight points from sophomore guard Zak Showalter, including his first three-pointer since Jan. 20 and his second of the season. The former walk-on gave Wisconsin 15 crucial minutes and posted five rebounds to go along with those five quick points.
"I know some things have been said about our bench throughout the year," Showalter said. "We want to prove ourselves and be ready."
"Showy is just a warrior; he battles, doesn't care if he scores, doesn't care how many fouls he picks up," Dekker said. "But tonight he got a few good looks on the offensive end, was able to cut and use athleticism for the layup, and then hit a big shot."
Although the Ducks pushed back with a 15-7 spurt to tie the game at 52-52, it was Dekker who decided to take over and push the Badgers over the top. After a first half he characterized as "out of sync," Dekker caught fire, running off 14 second-half points to finish with a team-high 17 on 6-of-12 shooting.
"When I am myself, I can do some good things," Dekker said. "I just let the game come to me and just put up shots with confidence and tried to be a little more aggressive."
With their backs against the wall, the Badgers relied on the experience of having been through the tournament grind before, showing no sign of distress with the game on the line late. After settling on long jumpers for much of the night, Wisconsin finally made a concerted effort to work the ball inside down the stretch, finishing off an Oregon team that gave all it had and still fell short.
"I'm proud of these guys," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "That was a tough game. Pretty physical, some things got away from us, but we were able to corral all our talents and get it done."
Wisconsin draws North Carolina in Sweet 16
The Badgers will face the Tar Heels at approximately 6:47 p.m. CT Thursday in Los Angeles.
With the win, Wisconsin advances to its fourth Sweet 16 in five years. Redshirt seniors Duje Dukan and Josh Gasser have now reached the tournament's second weekend in every year they were active on the Wisconsin roster. For a program that had only four Sweet 16 appearances in program history when these two stepped on campus, that is quite a feat.
"To be consistently a Sweet 16 team, that's why Duje and I came here," Gasser said. "To show that you've done that and helped your team win, that's what its all about."
"We came in as freshman and wanted to make a mark on this program," Dukan added. "We wanted to change the culture to make it more of a habit to go deeper in the tournament. Slowly but surely, we've made that happen. Obviously the job's not done, but we're happy where we are at for now."
Now that Wisconsin has advanced passed the first weekend, it can loosen up and focus on facing a tough opponent in North Carolina.
"We're not satisfied at all," Gasser said. "We didn't even celebrate really after this one. We are happy to be there, but we have a lot more that we want."