The top-seeded Wisconsin Badgers pulled away late to beat the eighth-seeded Oregon Ducks 72-65 on Sunday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, to earn their fourth appearance in the Sweet 16 in the past five seasons.
The Ducks posed a stiff third-round test, cutting an 11-point first-half deficit to three at halftime. Oregon tied the game at 52-52 with less than six minutes to play before the Badgers used a 6-0 run -- including five points from Sam Dekker -- to create room and coast to their 33rd victory in 36 games.
“Basketball, a lot of times, is a game of runs," Dekker said. "A good team is the one that can respond to those runs."
Dekker scored 17 for the Badgers. Wisconsin also got 16 from Frank Kaminsky and 14 from Nigel Hayes to turn away Joseph Young, who scored 30, and the Ducks for a second straight season in the round of 32.
Before handing the Pac-12 its first defeat in eight tournament games, the Badgers beat Coastal Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.
Coach Bo Ryan’s Big Ten championship team advances to the West Regional in Los Angeles to play North Carolina on Thursday.
Star of the first weekend: Dekker. While Kaminsky gets most of the attention, and rightfully so, the Badgers might not have escaped Omaha without Dekker, the 6-foot-9 junior from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. In addition to his team-high 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting against the Ducks, Dekker added five rebounds in 33 minutes. He scored 20 points in the second round and finished the weekend 7-of-16 from 3-point range. The rangy Dekker plays primarily on the perimeter, creating matchup problems that the Badgers expose regularly. He held his own on the defensive side, as every player in Ryan’s system must do. The presence of Dekker, alongside Kaminsky and Hayes, gives Wisconsin a look that others in Sweet 16 -- with the exception of perhaps Kentuck -- simply can’t replicate.
The big moment in Omaha: Oregon did well in disrupting Wisconsin’s rhythm on Sunday with pressure defense and an often-chaotic pace. But when the Badgers could have cracked in the final six minutes, Dekker and guard Bronson Koenig produced big plays. With Wisconsin ahead 53-52, Dekker took a pass from Kaminsky and delivered a slick up-and-under layup. Then, with less than five minutes to play, Ryan called a timeout right as Koenig found Dekker in transition for what would have been a wide-open dunk. Out of the timeout, Dekker bailed out his coach by burying a 3 from the wing to make it 58-52. Infused with momentum, Wisconsin scored eight of the next 12 points to build its lead to a comfortable 12 points.
What’s next? North Carolina. It's a mouth-watering matchup. The Tar Heels, seeded fourth in the West, present another contrast in style to Wisconsin’s methodical system. It's likely that no team in the country knows what it wants to do and executes it with more efficiency than Wisconsin. At their best, the same could be said about Roy Williams’ teams at UNC. If the Badgers get past North Carolina, a rematch with Arizona -- which plays Xavier in the regional-semifinal round -- could await. Wisconsin edged Arizona 64-63 in overtime behind 28 points from Kaminsky last year to reach the Final Four. Want to look away ahead? Yet another rematch could loom in Indianapolis with Kentucky. UK eliminated the Badgers in that same national semifinal spot last year with a 74-73 victory.