OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The Wisconsin Badgers have heard all season
how much better they might be if Devin Harris had stuck around for
his senior year or if his expected replacement, Boo Wade, had
played more than one non-conference game.
Well, even if they had those guys, they couldn't be any better
off than they are now: among the last 16 teams playing for the NCAA
Mike Wilkinson had 23 points and nine rebounds and Zach Morley
contributed 15 points and eight rebounds, sending the Badgers into
the regional semifinals in Syracuse next weekend with a 71-62
second-round victory Sunday over tournament upstart Bucknell.
"It's pretty good to be in the Sweet 16 after all this team's
been through," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "People kept saying
what we could've been and should've been. Well, we're going to
Syracuse. It's not Disneyland, but, hey, it's Syracuse."
The Badgers (24-8) are into the second weekend for the second
time in three years. They were knocked out in the second round last
year, even with Big Ten player of the year Harris and Wade, who
left the program for personal reasons, first in October then for
good in January.
"Hard work pays off," said Alando Tucker, Wisconsin's other
starting forward, who scored 15 of his 17 points from the foul
line. "We've been battling the whole season."
While the sixth-seeded Badgers turn their attention to Friday
night's game against 10th-seeded North Carolina State, the Bison
will be heading back to their Pennsylvania campus with heads held
Bucknell (23-10) gave the Patriot League its first NCAA
Tournament win with a stunner against preseason No. 1 Kansas in the
first round, then played the Big Ten's third-place team tough deep
into the second half Sunday. That's pretty impressive for a program
that just started handing out scholarships last year and has only
five players getting free rides.
Wisconsin forced the Bison off the 3-point line, taking away
their best weapon against the Jayhawks, yet Bucknell still rallied
from an early 13-point deficit and led 47-46 with 9:09 left. Even
after trailing by 12 with 1:41 left, the Bison got within six with
36 seconds to play, only to see Tucker and Wilkinson seal their
victory with free throws.
"I was very proud to be part of that game," Bucknell coach Pat
Flannery said. "There's nothing I could take negative from this,
Bucknell's underdog tale was emphasized by the plight of its
band, or lack of one. Because of spring break, the Bisons were
without their usual crew, so they borrowed Northern Iowa's on
Friday and Oklahoma State's on Sunday. They also borrowed a lot of
Oklahoma State's fans who stuck around after seeing the Cowboys win
the early game.
Wearing a shade of orange similar to Bucknell's, Oklahoma State
supporters kept alive cross-arena chants of "Go Bison" and held
up "Believe Bucknell" cards that some Bison alums had printed
Saturday. Some even learned to do a hands-to-head gesture mimicking
a charging bison.
The underdogs were so popular that Ryan overheard a player say
afterward, "We won another on the road."
Although Bucknell couldn't become the third No. 14 seed to reach
the round of 16, Flannery has no regrets. That's why he emptied his
bench with 41 seconds left, trailing by just eight.
"I just didn't want any of those kids to leave here and not get
on the floor," said Flannery, who quickly changed gears when his
team got within six.
Bucknell beat Kansas in large part by limiting everyone but Big
12 player of the year Wayne Simien. The Badgers, however, had two
6-foot-8 forwards crashing the boards and 6-foot-11 center Chris
McNaughton couldn't stop both.
Morley, who was shut out in 28 minutes of a first-round win over
Northern Iowa, was 6-of-7 with three 3-pointers. His tap-in with
8:41 left put the Badgers ahead for good, then he protected the
lead with rebounds on the next two defensive stands.
Bucknell was still within four points when Wilkinson personally
went on a 7-2 run that pushed the lead back to nine.
"We just couldn't keep up with them physically down the
stretch," said McNaughton, who scored a career-high 23 points on
10-of-14 shooting. "It's tough."
Wisconsin kept the Bison from putting up a 3-pointer the first
9:37. Bucknell was just 5-of-15 from 3-point range after trying 31
against the Jayhawks.
"We wanted to be right in their faces," Tucker said. "That
kind of disturbed them."
Ryan and Flannery -- a pair of national championship winners in
Division III and longtime friends -- afterward shared a warm,
gesture-filled handshake at midcourt that looked more like two pals
finishing a round of golf.
Ryan said they were continuing a longtime debate.
"He said his favorite is a cheesesteak. Mine's a hoagie," Ryan
said. "We didn't iron that one out."