ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Wisconsin didn't actually get its hands on the last four loose balls, it just seemed that way. Let's just say that every one that mattered down the stretch was theirs.
You should not be surprised when the Badgers are involved. You can read and debate the other details from the Badgers' 60-57 Round of 32 East Regional win over Vanderbilt, but the only ones that matter ended up in, off or close to Wisconsin hands. Who cares if the Badgers' had one basket in the last 4:06? Who cares if Jordan Taylor shot his team out of it as much as eventually winning it with a three with 1:42 left?
You must know by now that Wisconsin wins a lot of games down the stretch without actually scoring. They do it a lot by not letting the opponent score. In their first two tournament games the Badgers allowed 106 points. That's a hair above their nation-leading 52.9-point average coming into the tournament.
That's also fair warning: Look out Syracuse next week in the East Regional.
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One rap on Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is that he has never been to a Final Four with the Badgers. But this is his third Sweet 16 in five years. You can't get to New Orleans without first getting to Boston. I'll say it again: Look out Syracuse.
"We're a gritty group of guys," Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said. "We're tough kids. We'll do anything to win. We don't care who gets the accolades, who gets the scoring, especially at this point of the year."
Once again, the Badgers came in waves of red and white. Red for the strawberries, blood and bruises on their extremities. White for the ... well, some of that crimson has to land somewhere. Why not Wisconsin's pale jerseys on particularly gruesome battles?
Some call it hustle. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was ready to call it B.S., upset at a couple of calls down the stretch. But how is it that Wisconsin always seems to take the right angle on rebounds? How do 50/50 balls turn into 75/25 balls when Badgers hit the floor? The last couple of minutes told the story.
Wisconsin's 6-foot-10 Jared Berggren ran down a ball near his own baseline but had it stripped. The ball stayed with Wisconsin. Gasser had a big rebound, angling through traffic to somehow snag the rebound of Taylor's long 3 with 19 seconds left. Senior swingman Ryan Evans had the biggest, grabbing Josh Jenkins' miss off a wide-open three with two seconds left.
"Might have been the best look he had the whole game," Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings said after the SEC's leading scorer was limited to 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Evans may have only been able to get that rebound because Vandy's massive Festus Ezeli may have been shoved. Stallings admitted to being upset -- and not about Jenkins' missed shot.
"That's correct," he admitted.
"That call didn't cost us the game," Stallings added. "The guy that got fouled [Ezeli] had just missed a free throw. Wisconsin cost us the game."
See what I mean about 50/50? Wisconsin got the ball and the no call. After Evans was fouled, he made 1 of 2 free throws to put Wisconsin up by three. Vanderbilt still had a chance to inbound from 94 feet away and get off a game-tying 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left.
But there was Berggren again, leaping up to block Lance Goulbourne's inbounds pass.
Vanderbilt gets some sort of Golden Hematoma Award for matching Wisconsin's toughness. The defense rattled Taylor into 5-for-15 shooting. Stallings went to a 2-3 zone in the final minutes. That had much to do with Wisconsin hitting only two field goals in the final 6:43. Wisconsin, the 68th-best 3-point shooting team in the country, made in 10 from beyond the arc but misfired on 23 others.
It's the small things these gutty Badgers do. Vanderbilt was called for six offensive fouls. Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor each got two first-half fouls, causing them to miss much of the first half.
Gasser wasn't going to miss any of it. At about 3 a.m. he woke up, throwing up. Sick doesn't begin to describe it.
"I was in the bathroom for seven or eight hours," he said. "Not a very fun night or morning, but it makes me feel better to win. I got an IV and had three crackers in the pregame meal. I'm pretty hungry right now."
That can be taken a couple of ways so I'll say it again: Look out, Syracuse.