UNLV 74, Wisconsin 68
CHICAGO (AP)—Lon Kruger was beaming. Happy as a coach, proud as a dad.
Thanks to a shooting surge by his son Kevin, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels rallied for the school’s biggest win since the 1991 team made the Final Four.
Kevin Kruger shook off a shooting slump, connecting on three straight 3-pointers late in the second half Sunday as UNLV beat second-seeded Wisconsin 74-68 in the second round of the Midwest Regional.
Lon Kruger has no trouble acknowledging that winning is great, but watching your son play such an instrumental role makes it even better.
“When we needed baskets and Kev was getting the opportunity and not doing it, then that hurts perhaps a little more,” Lon Kruger said.
“You hurt for him and his mom. But when he does it, it’s a little extra special feeling for sure. I’m not going to deny that. We felt pretty good about all our guys, but he’s a little different, obviously.”
Kruger was shooting just 1-of-15 in the NCAAs—including 1-of-7 Sunday— when he found the range. He tied it with a 3, then hit another to give the Runnin’ Rebels the lead with just under six minutes left.
“Coming off my hand it felt good,” Kevin Kruger said. “I just had a little faith. I feel like I’m going to knock down the next one every time.
Seventh-seeded UNLV (30-6) led by 12 at the half, but Wisconsin rallied with 11 straight points. A 16-2 run gave the Badgers a five-point lead to the delight of their red-clad fans at the United Center.
But Kruger, who transferred from Arizona State to play his final season for his father, delivered. After his three 3-pointers, he was fouled on another long-range attempt and made all three free throws to make it 64-56 with a little more than three minutes left.
“I kept telling him, `You are going to make some shots,”’ said Wendell White, who led UNLV with 22 points. “He did. That’s what happened.”
Wisconsin’s Kammron Taylor sank a 3-pointer and converted a three-point play with 59 seconds to go to get the Badgers to 70-67.
Curtis Terry had a free throw and a little jumper in the lane to give the Runnin’ Rebels a five-point cushion with 29 seconds to go.
The Badgers (30-6) became the highest-seeded team to lose in the tournament, so far.
“It took a team to go 10-from-20 from `3’ to get us out,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “And to their credit, they were able to do that.”
UNLV’s first-round victory over Georgia Tech was its first in the NCAA tournament since the 1991 team went to the Final Four behind Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon and towel-chewing coach Jerry Tarkanian. That team was beaten in the national semifinals by Duke.
“From day one we’ve talked about putting UNLV back on the map,” Kevin Kruger said. “There will be some doubters. Some people will say we were lucky, but we don’t really care. We’re going to the Sweet 16 and nobody can argue with that.”
Wisconsin fell into an 18-point hole in the first round Friday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi before Taylor led them back in the second for a 76-63 victory.
The Badgers rallied again but this time after getting the lead, they couldn’t hold on.
Kruger finished with 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He was 4-for-10 from the field.
Taylor paced the Badgers with 24 points—19 in the second half.
Alando Tucker, the Big Ten player of the year and leading scorer in Wisconsin history, added 17 for the Badgers, who were ranked No. 1 late in the regular season. But he managed only six points in the second half and finished 4-for-11 from the field against the aggressive UNLV defense.
“They were tough all game,” Tucker said. “They were hard-nosed on the ball and when I caught it on or off the block, two guys were coming at me.”
Wisconsin, which lost on the same floor a week ago in the Big Ten finals against Ohio State, was playing its fifth game at the United Center in 10 days.
Kruger, 0-for-8 in a first-round win over Georgia Tech, missed his first three Sunday. But when he finally made one it turned into the biggest play of a 10-0 first-half spurt that opened up a 29-16 lead. Kruger was fouled on the play by Badgers freshman Jason Bohannon and made the free throw to finish off a four-point play.
With an aggressive defense and six 3-pointers the Runnin’ Rebels ran out to a 39-27 halftime lead.
When UNLV’s Wink Adams went high for a follow-up and fell hard to the floor, he was forced out of the game momentarily. After Terry stepped in at the line for Adams and missed both free throws, Wisconsin got a tying basket by Bohannon and then took its first lead since early in the game at 48-46 on Taylor’s two free throws.