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Preview: Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame

Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (left), guard Bronson Koenig (center), and forward Ethan Happ speak to the media during a press conference the day before the semifinals of the East regional of the NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Center. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

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Considering their NCAA Tournament fortunes appeared bleak at best following poor efforts in their respective conference tournaments two weeks ago, it might be appropriate to suggest fate has shined favorably on Notre Dame and Wisconsin recently.

A pair of schools coming off dramatic last-second wins last weekend will vie for the right to advance to the Elite Eight on Friday when the Fighting Irish and Badgers square off in a Sweet 16 matchup in Philadelphia.

Notre Dame opened the ACC tournament by rallying from a 16-point second-half deficit to defeat Duke in overtime, only to get pounded 78-47 by North Carolina in the semifinals.

The sixth-seeded Fighting Irish haven’t lost their flair for the dramatic at the Big Dance, however, digging out of a 12-point hole to beat Michigan before getting a tip-in from freshman Rex Pflueger with 1.5 seconds left to hold off a second-round upset bid from Stephen F. Austin.

Wisconsin turned in a listless offensive effort in a 12-point loss to Nebraska in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, then survived the lowest-scoring effort by a winning team in the NCAA Tournament since 2003 in a 47-43 first-round victory over Pittsburgh.

Bronson Koenig kept the seventh-seeded Badgers’ dream of making three straight Final Fours alive their next time out, hitting two 3-pointers in the final 11.7 seconds — including the game-winner as time expired — to send No. 2 seed Xavier home with a 66-63 loss.

TV: 6:27 p.m., TBS

About Wisconsin (22-12)

Defense, specifically keeping the opponent’s leading scorer in check, has been key for the Badgers through two NCAA Tournament games as Wisconsin held Pittsburgh’s Michael Young nearly 10 points below his 15.7 average and Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett to eight points below his usual 15.1-point standard.

Koenig (13.3 points) ended a three-game slide in which he totaled 21 points on 7-of-32 from the field by scoring 20 on 6-of-15 shooting — including 6-of-12 beyond the arc — versus the Musketeers.

The same cannot be said for leading scorer Nigel Hayes (15.9 points), who has missed all 17 of his 3-point attempts and is a combined 7-of-42 from the floor over his last three outings.

About Notre Dame (23-11)

Zach Auguste (14.3 points, 10.9 boards) became the 13th Fighting Irish to reach 800 career rebounds Sunday and has posted 10 double-doubles over his last 14 outings, averaging 15.3 points and 12.1 boards over that span.

The 6-10 senior forward is shooting 70.5 percent from the field in seven career NCAA Tournament games and has a chance to break Bill Walton’s tournament record (68.6) if he is able to maintain his current percentage on nine or more attempts.

V.J. Beachem (11.6 points) is coming off his worst shooting effort (6-for-13) since Notre Dame’s postseason run began, but he is still averaging 15.8 points on 24-of-39 from the field — including 13-of-25 from long-range — over that four-game stretch.

Tip-ins

1. The winner will meet either No. 1 seed North Carolina or No. 5 seed Indiana in the Elite Eight in Philadelphia on Sunday.

2. Notre Dame has committed 16 more turnovers than it has forced during the NCAA Tournament (29-13).

3. Since beginning the season with a 2-7 record in games decided by six points or fewer during their 9-9 start, the Badgers are 5-0 in such contests (including 2-0 in the Big Dance) since.

PREDICTION: Notre Dame 62, Wisconsin 58. 

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