CBS Sports Wisconsin used a 9-0 surge with five minutes left in the second half to take the lead for good and beat North Carolina 79-72 on Thursday in a West Regional Semifinal game.
Shockingly, the run was sprung by little-used backup point guard Zak Showalter, who scored six critical second half points in a three-minute stretch to turn the momentum and give the Badgers a lead they wouldn't give up. More than Showalter though, Sam Dekker was the star for the Badgers throughout the night, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Frank Kaminsky also chipped in 19 points after a rough first half.
For North Carolina, Brice Johnson was the best player on the floor despite being plagued by foul trouble, scoring 15 points. Justin Jackson also scored 15, and Marcus Paige chipped in 12, including a pair of late 3s to bring the game close.
The first half was the Dekker show, as the Wisconsin forward showed off all of the skills on the offensive end that have made him a potential first round pick. The forward took advantage of his matchup against his smaller former AAU teammate J.P. Tokoto on his way to 15 points and six rebounds. But that didn't matter, as North Carolina went 4-7 from behind the 3-point line and staked itself to a 33-31 lead.
"Early in the first half I thought we needed a spark, and I saw some opportunities in the open court to give us a spark," Dekker said. "If I use my athleticism the way I should, I tend to be able to get [to the rim]. So I just tried to stay on attack mode."
The second half slowed down a bit due to some more fouls being called, but that didn't stop the Tar Heels from taking a seven-point lead early on by getting out in transition and scoring. The key play to the turnaround occurred on one of those transition plays though, as Josh Gasser stripped (in a bit of a questionable call) Tokoto when going up for a layup. Had Tokoto made that layup, it would have pushed North Carolina's lead out to nine points with 10:45 left. Instead, Bronson Koenig came down and made a 3, then Nigel Hayes hit an and-one on the next possession to push it back to a one-point game.
"It's strange, the difference between winning and losing is so small," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We had J.P. on the breakaway, not a breakaway, but open court, and we didn't convert on that one. Then they came back and scored nine in a row."
The Badgers will face either Arizona or Xavier on Saturday for the right to advance to the Final Four.