By Devin Voss | @DevinVoss23
Sports Capital Journalism Program
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the North Carolina Tarheels 85-62 Friday night at Mackey Arena, giving the Badgers their 39th NCAA tournament win in 25 appearances. This also marks Wisconsin’s 11th win in its last 13 opening games and gives the Badgers a 5-1 record in No. 8 vs. No 9-seed matchups.
Wisconsin (18-12) will meet top-seeded Baylor in a second-round game on Sunday. Consistency on both ends of the floor powered the attack for the Badgers, as it has all season. Coming into Friday, Wisconsin ranked 13th in defensive efficiency and 32nd in offensive efficiency. The Badgers shot at a 51% clip, including 48% from 3-point range. Defensively, they were able to harass Carolina’s bigs down low, causing flurries of mistakes and turnovers, coming up with eight blocks and five steals.
“I thought we defended pretty well, I thought we rebounded well, we took care of the ball,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “If we can be consistent with what we do defensively, and obviously minimizing second shots…and then valuing possessions and taking care of the ball. Those are really the three primary foundational pieces we talk about the most.”
North Carolina (18-11) saw its 51st NCAA tournament appearance end abruptly. The defeat marked the first time that a Roy Williams-coached team lost a first-round game after 29 victories.
“I didn’t think we shot it very well,” Williams said. “We took some bad shots in the first half, we had six turnovers in the first half, and had eight bad shots…I thought our turnovers and bad shots were the key factor in the game.”
Turnovers were disastrous for North Carolina in the first half as the Tar Heels turned the ball over six times. Wisconsin converted the mistakes into eight points that helped fuel a Badger 22-8 run within the last 10 minutes of the half. Wisconsin senior guard Brad Davison scored 10 of his 16 first half points, including seven straight to give the Badgers a 40-24 lead at halftime.
Davison scored 29 points overall on 10-of-15 shooting. “I thought our defense was great in the first half, forcing turnovers, blocked shots,” Davison said, “but also limiting them to one shot and then getting on the glass because ultimately you can create disadvantages for them.”
North Carolina’s size and knack for rebounding were among the biggest factors facing Wisconsin. Heading into the matchup, the Tar Heels outrebounded opponents by an average of 10.7. The Badgers overcame this, consistently fighting for position down low, outrebounding North Carolina 37-34, an impressive feat for a team who was outrebounded by opponents during regular season play.
“On the glass, by large, I thought we were doing what we were supposed to do,” Gard said. “We got contributions from not only the fours and fives but the others that were able to get into the mix.”
In the second half, the Badgers picked up where they left off, outscoring North Carolina 45-38 while shooting 56%, including 54% from 3-point range. Davison continued pouring in buckets as well, scoring 13 more points without a miss in three attempts from beyond the 3-point line.
“I would say my favorite part was having fans back in the stands,” Davison said. “It’s hard not to have energy and not to play excited when you have fans in the stands.”
Age and experience also likely played a factor in Wisconsin’s win as the Badgers’ seniors collectively scored 75 of their 85 points. Wisconsin’s starting lineup is the oldest in the NCAA. North Carolina started two freshmen in its lineup for the first time since 2011.
“Experience does matter, but you still have to perform in the 40 minutes,” Gard said. “That’s really all we focused on…20 minutes before the game we talked about the first half and how we wanted to play that, and I said ‘We’ll talk about the second half and make adjustments when I come back in here next time.’”
The last time North Carolina was eliminated in the first round was 1999, when the Tar Heels lost to Weber State. “The last game of the year is always extremely emotional,” Williams said. “Coach Gard, he and his staff did a great job at getting his kids ready to play. Every loose ball it seemed like they got, every time we gave them an open look they made shots.”