ST. LOUIS -- Wisconsin-Pittsburgh was a game screaming out for an offensive hero. And we mean violently shrieking for one.
The seventh-seeded Badgers managed to find two in the second half Friday in Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown, helping them squeak out a teeth-grinding 47-43 victory. One of those heroes would have seemed an unlikely choice six weeks ago.
Brown, a junior forward, had never attempted a 3-pointer before this season. But over his final 10 games heading into the NCAA tournament, he emerged as the team’s most reliable outside threat, hitting half of his 42 shot attempts beyond the arc.
With Pitt and Wisconsin predictably turning the paint into a wrestling match, Brown’s outside touch was desperately needed. He hit a pair of 3-pointers late in the second half, including one with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left to give the Badgers the lead for good.
Meanwhile, Happ, the Big Ten freshman of the year, adjusted to the rugged style inside in the second half. He scored 12 of his 15 points after the break. While neither Brown (11 points) nor Happ exactly entered Buddy Hield scoring territory, they accounted for more than half their team's points in a game most witnesses would soon rather forget.
Two teams known for deliberate styles of play and physical defense brought out the worst (or, depending on your point of view, best) in one another. Neither side crossed the 40-point barrier until the final four minutes. Wisconsin had 13 points -- 13! -- entering the final minute of the first half.
Brown and Happ also needed to come to the rescue offensively in part because of the postseason struggles of Nigel Hayes. The Badgers’ leading scorer went just 3-for-17 from the floor against Pitt, following a 2-for-15 showing in the Big Ten tournament loss to Nebraska. Luckily, he had more help this time around.