After overcoming a late seven-point deficit, No. 8 Wisconsin had the ball in the final seconds of a tie game against No. 1 Villanova in the Round of 32 on Saturday. That’s when Greg Gard called timeout to set up the game-winning play.
“We were going to do a ball screen with (Bronson) Koenig, but I changed my mind based on what I had seen over the course of the game with (Nigel) Hayes’ ability to get to the rim,” the Wisconsin head coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I had a flashback to other parts of the game where Hayes was able to get to the rim pretty easily from the wing.”
So that’s the play Gard drew up – and it worked to perfection. Hayes converted a driving lay-up to help Wisconsin win, 65-62, and knock off the defending national champions.
“Nigel was able to get the corner turned and then put on his fake spin and was able to get to the rim,” Gard said. “It was one of those things where as the flow of the game goes on, it wasn’t something we had practiced. It was one of those things we saw during the game that was something Nigel was doing pretty well. It was a tie game. Worst case scenario, I was hoping he was going to draw a foul and get to the free-throw line. He was able to get all the way to the rim and have a reserve layup on the other side.”
Wisconsin (27-9), which advanced to its third Sweet 16 in four years, will face No. 4 Florida (26-8) on Friday at 9:59 p.m. ET.
Not bad for an 8-seed.
“I really didn’t care about the seed,” Gard said. “We were in it. We needed to go play and not worry about that.”
The Badgers advanced to the Final Four in 2014 and 2015, in large part, because of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. They could make it a third Final Four in four years thanks to Hayes and Koenig, who are leaders on and off the floor – key word being “off.”
Hayes, who is African American, and Koenig, who is Native American, embrace social activism more than your typical elite student-athlete.
Gard is okay with that.
“I make sure they understand what they’re getting themselves into,” he said. “I think that’s the best thing I can do from my standpoint – just try to educate and advise and ask questions. When Bronson wanted to go to the Dakota pipeline, (I asked), ‘Why are you going? Do you know what you’re getting yourself into? Do you understand that these protests can go from peaceful to violent instantaneously? What’s going to be the view of this from the outside in 12 hours? What’s it going to be in 12 days? How will it impact your career going forward personally?’ To have them both sit here in my office and talk and explain their knowledge and why they wanted to do it, it wasn’t a popularity contest for them. It was something they truly believed in. They were highly educated in it. They understood the deep concerns and the history of it.
“Obviously Nigel has been more active in the Black Lives Matter and some of the college student-athlete rights and those things, and Bronson with the Dakota pipeline – to listen to them talk about their stance and why it was important to them, for me, it’s been very educational. They both have made me a better coach because they’ve opened eyes . . . for us here on campus. I think we’re in more of a supportive role than anything else and just trying to guide them and make sure they’re asking all the right questions and really thinking outside the box, so to speak. What do you want the impact to be? And what will it really be as you go forward and take this stance on these issues?”