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Villanova feels sting of Wisconsin's late-game heroics

Villanova coach Jay Wright had nothing to complain about Saturday after his team fell short in its bid to repeat as national champions.

He watched Wisconsin stars Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig make big plays down the stretch of the Badgers’ 65-62 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. You win some, you lose some.

“We’ve been on the other end of that a lot,” Wright said. “And when another team steps up and makes those plays, and two great players like Koenig and Hayes make those plays, you’ve got to give them credit.”

“To me there’s no dishonor in losing in this tournament, but I do know – and we’ve lived through it – you are judged by how you play in this tournament and that’s the reality of it,” Wright said. “So you have to accept that.”

Of course, Villanova won the title over North Carolina last year on a last-second shot by Kris Jenkins. And the Wildcats upset Kansas in last year’s Elite Eight, which was a one-point game with 25 seconds left.

Wright admitted on Friday that expectations for the top-ranked Wildcats were another Final Four.

“That’s probably what we have to do to be a success,” he said. “We accept that, we’ll take it. We’re not going to define ourselves that way. But we do get it.”

“This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country,” Wright said. “I say this every year at Villanova, we can’t take it for granted. It’s so special to be a part of it. Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You’re playing the best teams in the country. You’re going to come down to games like this, you know?”

Sweet Badgers: Wisconsin advanced to the Sweet 16 for a fourth straight season. No other team in the nation has been to each of the last three Sweet 16s. It’s Wisconsin’s fifth Sweet 16 trip in the last six years. The Badgers have won three of their last four games against the Associated Press No. 1 team. The other wins came against top-ranked Kentucky, 71-64, in the 2015 Final Four and over top-ranked Ohio State, 71-67, in the 2011 regular season.

Top scorers: Wisconsin seniors Hayes and Koenig are the nation’s top active NCAA Tournament scorers with 166 and 159 points, respectively, in 16 games played. The all-time career leading scorer? That’s Duke’s Christian Laettner with 407 points in 23 games. Houston’s Elvin Hayes is second with 358 points in 13 games.

Downhill guards: Villanova built a 57-50 lead with 5:31 left largely due to the success of star guards Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson driving into the lane and finishing tough shots around the rim. From the 17-minute mark to the 10-minute mark, Villanova got all eight of its scores on drives.

“You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due,” said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard. “Those two guys are two terrific players. I’ve watched them go downhill on a lot of people and get the ball in the paint. . . . That’s how they played all year. There’s been a lot of teams having a hard time keeping them out of the paint. And we were able to shore it up enough down the stretch to be able to catch them and hang on.”

Wildcat class: The Villanova senior class, which included Jenkins, Josh Hart and forward Darryl Reynolds, finished with a 129-17 record, tied for the 10th most wins by any senior class in NCAA history. (No. 1 is Memphis' 2009 class, which won 137 games.)

“Josh and Kris and Darryl are three of the greatest Villanova basketball players of all time,” Wright said. “Their class is going to go down as the most successful class in Villanova history. But what we take pride in at Villanova even more is all three of them will graduate on time. All three of them, on the court, good times, bad times, always conducted themselves extremely well.”

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