By Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wisconsin’s second consecutive trip to the NCAA Sweet 16, a first in program history, wasn’t cemented with a spectacular windmill dunk or an NBA-range three-pointer.
That isn’t how Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and his players roll.
Fourth-seeded UW used three huge rebounds, two on the offensive end that were all about hustle, and just enough defense to outlast fifth-seeded Vanderbilt, 60-57, Saturday at The Pit.
“We’re a gritty group of guys,” said sophomore guard Josh Gasser, who battled the flu to play 24 minutes and grabbed the second of the three crucial rebounds in the final minute. “We’re tough kids.
“We’ll do anything to win. . . . We just want to do the little things that it takes to win games.”
Wisconsin (26-9) hit just one field goal in the final 4 minutes — a three-pointer by Jordan Taylor to give the Badgers a 59-57 lead — but made all the hustle plays in the final minute to oust the Commodores (25-11).
As a result, UW will face top-seeded Syracuse (33-2) on Thursday at TD Garden in Boston, with the starting time to be determined.
Syracuse advanced with a 75-59 victory over eighth-seeded Kansas State.
“They made a few more plays than we did and deserved to win,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
Taylor finished with 14 points to lead five UW players in double figures. Jared Berggren added 12, Ryan Evans and reserve guard Ben Brust chipped in 11 each and Mike Bruesewitz added 10.
After Taylor buried the three-pointer to give UW the two-point lead with 1 minute 42 seconds left, the Badgers scored just one more point.
That came when Evans hit the first of bonus free throws with 2.1 seconds left.
In-between, UW grabbed those three huge rebounds and then after Evans missed the second free throw and Vanderbilt called a timeout with 1.6 seconds left to set up a play, the 6-foot-10 Berggren swatted away Lance Goulbourne’s inbound pass.
Goulbourne quickly tracked down the loose ball in the backcourt, but his desperation heave wasn’t close.
“Coach told me just keep my hands up, use my length, and just try to get a fingertip on it,” Berggren said. ”I ended up pretty much getting my whole hand on it.”
Berggren started the run of big plays when he soared down the lane to grab an offensive rebound with 46.8 seconds left and UW clinging to the 59-57 lead.
That allowed UW to run the clock before Taylor launched a three-pointer with 19 seconds left.
The ball hit the front of the rim but Gasser, who was in the right corner looking for a pass, sprinted into the lane to track down the long rebound and was fouled with 16.7 seconds left.
“I was in the deep corner, spotting up,” Gasser said. “When I saw it in the air I just reacted.”
Gasser missed the first of bonus free throws and the Commodores got the ball to their leading scorer, guard John Jenkins.
Jenkins, a 44.6 percent three-point shooter who entered the day No. 1 nationally in three-pointers made per game (3.9), got open off a ball screen at the top of the key.
He missed to finish 2 of 9 from three-point range and 3 of 13 overall.
“People are going to have an off shooting day,” said Jenkins, who finished with 13 points and failed to hit at least 3 three-pointers for the first time in 16 games. “And it was one of mine today.”
Taylor acknowledged his heart sunk when he saw Jenkins wide open.
“I know my mom already bought tickets to Boston,” he said with a smile, “so I was hoping that it didn’t go in.”
Evans, battling Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli (14 points, 11 rebounds) in the lane, soared high to snatch the defensive rebound.
“I told myself if this ball comes off they’re not going to get the rebound,” said Evans, who finished with six rebounds. “It was that simple. I didn’t want to give them another chance.”
Berggren made sure Vanderbilt never got that chance.
“Those little plays sum up the margin between a lot of teams,” Bruesewitz said. “I’ve said it before and I know it is a cliché, but a lot of little things can add up to something big.
“Those little things added up to us winning.”