NEW YORK (AP) — With 4 seconds left in overtime, Chris Chiozza took off with the ball, hoping to get to the hoop or find an open man. Instead, the Florida point guard stopped short right at the 3-point line and let fly with a shot that will go down in Gators’ history.
Chiozza’s 3-pointer swished in at the buzzer in to send Florida to the East Regional final with an 84-83 victory over Wisconsin on Friday night in the most dramatic game of this NCAA Tournament.
“This is something for the rest of his life that he’ll be remembered by,” Florida coach Mike White. “‘He made an unbelievable play.”
The fourth-seeded Gators will play South Carolina on Sunday in an all-Southeastern Conference matchup for a spot in the Final Four.
Nigel Hayes had given the Badgers (27-10) a 2-point lead with 4 seconds left on two free throws. With no timeouts, the Gators inbounded to Chiozza and he took care of the rest for Florida (27-8), setting off a Swamp-like celebration at Madison Square Garden.
“I was going to pass, but I was really going to the rim. But they did a good job of bumping me and slowing me down, and that was the shot I had so I had to have that one,” Chiozza said.
Hayes ended up chasing and that is no way to play defense.
“I need to do a better job of making him change directions. He’s extremely quick with the ball and he was able to put it in one hand and kind of outrun me,” Hayes said.
Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter was set to be the star before Chiozza took it away. Showalter, a senior, forced overtime with a leaping 3-pointer off one leg with 2.1 seconds left in regulation — pointing to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the crowd — as the Badgers wiped out a 12-point, second-half deficit in the last 4:15.
Florida is in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2014, and for the first time under White — the former Mississippi guard who was on the losing end of one of the most famous game-winning shots in NCAA history.
White and the Rebels were upset by Valparaiso on Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beater in 1998. Does this one make up for that?
“Hell yeah,” said White, the second-year coach who replaced Billy Donovan. “With an emphasis on the hell. Yeah. Absolutely. What a neat game to be a part of, especially when you’re on the winning end.”
KeVaughn Allen earned the respect of Rodgers for carrying Florida most of the way. Allen broke out of a slump with a career-high 35 points.
Eighth-seeded Wisconsin built a five-point lead in overtime, but with star guard Bronson Koenig hobbled by a leg issue the Badgers couldn’t close out Florida.
After Wisconsin’s Khalil Iverson hit the front of the rim on a breakaway dunk that Florida’s Canyon Barry got a piece of, Chiozza drove for a layup that tied it at 81 with 24 seconds left.
The Badgers put it in Hayes’ hands on their final possession. The senior who scored the winning bucket in Wisconsin’s upset of defending champion Villanova, used a spin move to draw a foul.
Hayes had 22 in his last game for Wisconsin.
Making their fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance, it looked as if the experienced Badgers had once again found a way to survive and advance.
Chiozza then earned himself a spot in the “One Shining Moment” montage.
Wisconsin: The end of an era for the Badgers. Seniors Hayes, Koenig, Showalter and Vitto Brown go out having been part of four straight Sweet 16 appearances.
“This is a tough way for them to go out,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “And how they battled back, came from 12 down, it’s kind of a microcosm of how they have navigated through the program. They have fought back at adverse times and tonight was a great testament to their Will and never give up attitude.”
All-Big Ten selection Ethan Happ will return as the focal point for the Badgers next season, but there will be bigger roles for players such as Khalil Iverson, D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl.
Florida: The SEC only got five of its 14 teams into the NCAA Tournament, but it will have three in the final eight for the first time since 1986 (Kentucky plays in the South Regional final against North Carolina on Sunday) and at least one in the Final Four. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was at the Garden, enjoying the S-E-C! chants. Sankey brought two ties with him to the arena. He had garnet for South Carolina in game one and then changed to blue and orange for Florida in the nightcap.
Florida: The Gators split two regular-season games with South Carolina.
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