March Madness – (4) North Carolina vs. (1) Wisconsin

(4) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (1) Wisconsin Badgers (-5.5, 142 o/u)

Despite being heavily out-rebounded and posting their worst shooting performance in ages, the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (33-3, 16-2 Big Ten) defeated the No. 8 Oregon Ducks, 72-65, on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16, where they will face the No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels (26-11, 11-7 ACC).

The Ducks pressured Wisconsin with various defensive looks over the course of the game, and the Badger players gave their opponent credit for making things tough.

“I knew they were going to throw a lot of different things at us – double-teams, triple-teams, pressure up and down the court,” Frank Kaminsky said. “When that happens, there’s bound to be a lot of missed shots.”

Kaminsky, one of two Wooden Award frontrunners (along with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor), scored 16 points in the win and grabbed seven boards. Wisconsin also got big performances from Sam Dekker, who scored 17 points, and Nigel Hayes, who chipped in with 14.

Though Hayes went just 1/5 from beyond the arc, he was all over the stat sheet at the end of the night, collecting five rebounds and dishing out three assists to go along with a steal and a block. But the sophomore forward realizes the team is still a long way from its ultimate goal.

“We’re definitely excited and thrilled to be there, but we’re not as in awe or shocked as we were last year,” said Hayes. “Last year, we were jumping around up and down on the court, celebrating. This time, it was ‘Hoo-rah, good job guys. We have the next game to take care of.'”

That next game comes Thursday night against No. 4  North Carolina in Los Angeles. For UNC coach Roy Williams, this will be his first Sweet 16 appearance in three years. His team beat No. 5 Arkansas, 87-78, last weekend to reach the second week of the tourney.

The Heels held a slim three-point lead at the half, but point guard Marcus Paige helped UNC pull away after the break, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half.

“Well, if I could play just as well in the first half as I do in the second half, I would prefer to do that, but sometimes it happens that way,” said Paige. “Sometimes, if you have a poor first half, you want to do whatever you can to erase that and make up for it the second, and that’s what I’ve been able to do a couple times.”

Unlike the stoic Hayes and his teammates, the Tar Heels took time to celebrate their Sweet 16 berth. We don’t know how exactly, but things apparently got pretty festive.

“It would be the most embarrassing thing of my life probably, so I’ll just leave it like that,” Williams said. “But I do enjoy acting silly and having fun. I am emotional and wear my feelings on my sleeve a lot in both directions, very happily or very mad, too. I hope the cameras weren’t all over the locker room, let’s put it that way.”

On the injury front, North Carolina recently announced that Kennedy Meeks is doubtful for Thursday’s game. Meeks is the team’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.

Wisconsin failed to cover in their first two games. Against Coastal Carolina, they emerged with a 14-point win as 19-point favorites, and they were laying 12.5 when they edged the Ducks by seven.

The Badgers’ minus the points (-5.5) is a dangerous play on Thursday, but look for their tough defense to test North Carolina’s offense – which is now without a key cog in Meeks – meaning the under (142) is in play.

(Photo credit: Triple Tri (flickr) []. Photo has been cropped.)

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