BUFFALO, N.Y. — After picking up his fourth foul just over seven minutes into the second half, No. 8 seed Wisconsin (27-6) senior guard Bronson Koenig sulked as he headed to the bench.
After the game, the senior guard said that he knew after picking up the foul, that he had to come out of the game. With the majority of the second half left to play, the only question for the Badgers was, when would he come back in?
“The assistants couldn’t decide either,” head coach Greg Gard said. “One wanted him to go back in at seven minutes. The other said no. I never got [assistant coach Joe] Krabbenhoft’s vote. I decided to wait. We were within seven at that point in time at the eight-minute media; I think it was 57-50. It wasn’t going to get much further and I was going to have to go back to him.”
Koenig re-entered the game with 5:43 to play and the score was 57-50 in favor of No. 1-seed Villanova. Just over four minutes later, after nine points from Koenig, plus a basket from redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ, Wisconsin led 62-59.
The Badgers would hold on, knocking off the Wildcats, 65-62, and Koenig, yet again, was key in Wisconsin’s victory.
Thursday night in UW’s win over Virginia Tech, Koenig scored a career-high 28 points, while making a Wisconsin-NCAA tournament record eight 3-pointers.
Tonight when the Badgers needed to claw back into the game, it was again Koenig who shined. Koenig’s third and final 3-pointer of the night came with a Villanova defender draped all over him.
“I knew it was good,” redshirt freshman guard Brevin Pritzl said. “You gotta trust him. He’s been shooting it lights out lately. I knew it was 100 percent going in.”
Happ described Koenig’s crucial jumper similarly.
“He asked me, ‘I don’t know how I hit it,” Happ recalled Koenig saying to him. “I said, ‘Because it’s in your blood man.’ It’s in his blood to take shots and make them.”
While senior forward Nigel Hayes was the Badgers’ leading scorer Saturday, finishing with 19 points compared to 17 from Koenig, Wisconsin yet again needed Koenig to make perimeter jumpers to pull out a victory.
“Everyone’s just telling me, ‘Go in there and make plays,’” Koenig said. “Even when sometimes I haven’t been shooting the ball well or have been off for a few nights. I'm just so grateful to have those guys around me to support me.”
As the Badgers move forward, they will need to continue to believe in Koenig. His shot-making might determine if UW advances past the Sweet Sixteen.