Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/22/12
The death knell on Wisconsin's basketball season could have arrived when Badgers center Jared Berggren picked up his second foul less than eight minutes into Thursday night's game. It could've worsened when teammate and fellow starter Mike Bruesewitz joined him on the bench with two fouls 33 seconds later. Or, when Wisconsin entered the half trailing Syracuse by six points. The Orange, after all, were a perfect 28-0 with a halftime lead this season. But no matter what unfortunate circumstances befell Wisconsin, the Badgers stuck right with mighty Syracuse until the very end thanks to their gritty determination and an outside shooting display for the ages. And although No. 1 seed Syracuse escaped that seems to be the appropriate word, anyway with a 64-63 victory in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, this Wisconsin team played as well as it possibly could, giving one of the best teams in college basketball a run neither side will soon forget."It might be one of the best games we've ever played," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said afterward.The Orange certainly needed to be at their best. Because the Badgers were at theirs.All season, question marks surrounded Wisconsin, which returned just two starters in point guard Jordan Taylor and wing Josh Gasser. Some suggested the Badgers didn't possess the experience or talent to play at a high enough level in the biggest moments of the season. And when Wisconsin lost three straight games at mid-season and players couldn't make a 3-pointer to save their lives, debate about the team's capabilities only intensified. But Badgers coach Bo Ryan never lost faith in his team, and players didn't waver in the belief that they could peak at the right time. Taylor began scoring more, while Berggren and forward Ryan Evans became reliable second and third options. When the bench play of guards Ben Brust and Rob Wilson emerged as well, it provided Wisconsin with enough ammunition to take down any team in the country on the right night.It nearly culminated with one of the biggest victories in Badgers history Thursday night.Fourth-seeded Wisconsin (26-10) couldn't match up athletically with Syracuse (34-2), but the Badgers' maddeningly methodical style of play put the squeeze on the Orange for much of the game. Syracuse thrived all season on its length to disrupt passing lanes while playing its famed 2-3 matchup zone, and the only way for the Badgers to compete was to find holes on the perimeter and finally make some 3-pointers.Did they ever.With the game and a season seemingly slipping away, Berggren the 6-foot-11 center with an unexpectedly silky shooting touch buried a triple to bring Wisconsin to within 48-44 with 11 minutes remaining in the second half. Then, the fireworks really began.Brust, Taylor and Gasser immediately followed with 3-pointers of their own. Brust and Taylor canned another pair of 3s, and Wisconsin suddenly led 59-56 with 7:05 to play.During the stretch, Wisconsin drilled an astounding six consecutive 3-point attempts over a 3:55 span of game clock, and it appeared that the stars were aligned for the Badgers to take down the Orange.For the game, Wisconsin hit 14 3-pointers more than any team made against Syracuse this season on 27 attempts. But the Badgers missed their last five long-range chances, and it cost them dearly.The 27th and final attempt was a long, contested 3-pointer from Taylor in the waning seconds that fell short. Gasser picked up the loose ball, but his turnaround baseline jumper landed wide of the mark, ending a season most folks would have to consider a success given the question marks in October.The final sequence of events on Thursday likely will be questioned by Badgers fans for quite some time. Berggren rushed to the scorer's table to check in, but Wisconsin had already passed the ball inbounds with less than 15 seconds remaining. Although the Badgers had one timeout left, Ryan never called it, and Taylor's contested heave was the best shot they managed.Taylor ended a spectacular career with 17 points and five 3-pointers. A sixth 3, of course, would have sent Wisconsin to the Elite Eight for the first time in seven years. Instead, the Badgers headed home from Boston to Madison knowing they gave their best by epitomizing team basketball, but wondering what could have been. Meanwhile, Syracuse could breathe a final sigh of relief."I knew they were good," Boeheim said of Wisconsin. "I didn't know they were this good."An entire country learned right along with Boeheim. It's just a shame these Badgers won't get the opportunity to display how far they've progressed to a nation any longer. Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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