ST. LOUIS, MO. -- It's fitting that the Wisconsin Badgers were spending their first weekend of the NCAA tournament playing in St. Louis, the city on the rushing Mississippi where the skyline is punctuated by the famed Gateway Arch.
Located just over one mile away from the Scottrade Center, where the Badgers engaged in some March magic on Sunday night, the parabolic arch rises high into the air. It reaches its apex at 630 feet and comes back down to the earth.
It's a thing of beauty.
It's also incredibly analogical of Bronson Koenig's three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Xavier Musketeers in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
With two seconds to play and the game tied at 63, Wisconsin broke out of its timeout with a play drawn up to win the game. Forward Ethan Happ inbounded the ball to Koenig. The junior guard, who had drained five triples on the night already, took one dribble toward the corner in front of the Wisconsin bench. He rose up over Xavier guard Remy Abell. And fired.
Wisconsin 66, Xavier 63.
Was there ever a doubt?
"I let it fly and I knew it was going in," Koenig said.
Hindsight is 20/20. However, a victory for the Badgers was not always the clear result to an entertaining game throughout.
The seventh-seeded Badgers trailed by nine points with less than six minutes remaining. Representative of their roller coaster season, they never gave in.
"It was only a three-possession game," Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. "And that's when I thought if we could get to where it was within five, we could chip four off of that, that within the last minute and a half or so, we would have a chance."
The Badgers chipped away, but still trailed by three after an Edmond Sumner layup with 31 seconds to go.
Koenig responded by draining a pull-up three to knot the score with 11.7 seconds left on what was a broken play for the Badgers. It would end up being only the second-biggest shot he hit on the evening.
"It was a busted play in that possession with about 11 [seconds] to go," Gard said. "And he was able to make a play and obviously tie it."
Don't overlook the fact that the Badgers somehow got the ball back after Koenig's first triple. Guard Zak Showalter drew a charge on a Sumner drive with four seconds to play, giving the ball back to Wisconsin.
"That's why the kid's on the floor and why he is in the program," Gard said. "The toughness he brings, the glue that he is in between the other bricks on the team, so to speak.
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"That was a big-time play."
Leave it to the man who garners more bruises and bumps on defense than any other player to draw a call like that.
"I was saying, I haven't gotten a charge call in weeks," Showalter said. "I don't know the last game I got a charge call. But luckily I knew he was trying to go right hand, jumped it, anticipated it and got the call. I was in a charge slump."
Koenig made six threes scored a game-high 20 points and forward Ethan Happ scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Wisconsin will play No. 6 seed Notre Dame on Friday at 6:27 CST in Philadelphia for a spot in the Elite Eight.
For the third consecutive game this postseason, Wisconsin's top scorer, forward Nigel Hayes, struggled on offense. He finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
None of that mattered, however, on this night. Instead of spending postgame interviews discussing the disappointment of the season's conclusion, the Badgers celebrated. Oh, did they celebate. Teammates drenched Koenig on the court after his game-winner, then joyously jaunted over to the section of Wisconsin fans to belt out "Varsity."
It was a scene fit for a king. Or a Koenig.
"I like to have the ball in my hands in those kind of situations because I believe in myself, and I know my coaches and teammates believe in me, and that's why they did," Koenig said. "It turned out all right."
His teammates and coaches sure did believe.
"That man [Koenig] is amazing," guard Jordan Hill said. "That was a clutch shot. He deserved it."
What say you, Charlie Thomas?
"Ask me if I was worried."
Koenig had kept the Badgers alive all game with his triples against Xavier's 1-3-1 zone. Wisconsin's coaches took note, and drew up the final play to get Koenig a look.
"That's Bronson's shot," assistant coach Howard Moore said. "Once he got to the corner, I was thinking in my head that it was going down. That was something else."
Guard Remy Abell and forward Jalen Reynolds scored 13 points to lead the Musketeers, while Sumner added 11 points.
The Badgers performed better offensively than in their first-round win against Pittsburgh, a game in which 47 points were enough for the victory. While not completely fluid, Wisconsin shot 42.4 percent (25-59) from the field and made eight of 27 threes.
Shots were falling from deep early for Koenig. Wisconsin led 17-8 early after consecutive Koenig threes against Xavier's zone and a Vitto Brown jumper gave his team a 25-19 lead with 5:14 remaining in the half.
Happ picked up his second foul on the ensuing defensive possession and the Musketeers ended the half on a 14-5 run to go into the locker room with a 33-30 advantage.
Brown led all scorers with 10 points while Happ had seven.
Wisconsin regained three leads in the early stages of the second half, but each time, the Muskeeters took those away. After a 9-0 run broke a 49-49 tie to put Xavier up 58-49, the Badgers drew within one at 61-60 on a Hayes free throw. A 17-5 run sealed the deal.
With nothing but a few LEDs on the Daktronics above the backboard separating Wisconsin from going back to Madison with its season over, Koenig came through.
What an effort. What a team.
"This is the best damn team I've ever worked with," Wisconsin athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra said.
Coming into the game, Xavier was favored to win by 4.5 points. The Badgers didn't listen.
"Before the game we were talking, we really believed that we could beat this team," Showalter said.
He was right.
The arch was favorable in Wisconsin's march to a third consecutive Final Four.