Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Bronson Koenig (24) scored a career-high 28 points in the win against Virginia Tech.

Wisconsin delivers in ‘winning time,’ Villanova looming, and Chris Orr playing for his brother

We hope you’ll start your day with us here at Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.

Today is Friday, March 17, and this is what’s for breakfast.


Coming through

Nigel Hayes sat in the media room at the Kohl Center prior to the Big Ten Tournament last week and was peppered with questions about his and his team’s season-long free-throw shooting woes. The senior was honest and direct in his answers.

“We’ll get back to that because it’s winning time now,” Hayes said of needing to hit free throws when they counted the most. “It’s tournament time. It’s time to do great, miraculous things. We’ll have to do it if we want to win, quite frankly.”

On Thursday night, Hayes’ prediction became reality as the eighth-seeded Badgers defeated ninth-seeded Virginia Tech 84-74 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig combined for 44 points, but it was the way they did it that stood out. Hayes — a 58 percent free-throw shooter — hit 8 of 9 from the line, while Koenig drilled a school-record 8 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 28 points.

This was a case of two key guys clicking at the perfect time to help Wisconsin move on to the second round for the fourth consecutive year. Playing in their 15th NCAA tournament game, the seniors accepted the big moments and extended their college careers.

Everyone talked about experience playing a part in this matchup. Wisconsin was in its 19th consecutive tournament, and Virginia Tech was in it for the first time since 2007. It can be debated whether that hurt the Hokies, but it was a positive for the Badgers.

Whenever Wisconsin needed a big bucket it looked to Koenig and Hayes, and they usually came through. Every time Virginia Tech got some momentum, the two seniors squashed it. It was an epic effort at the most opportune time for a pair of players who added to their storied legacies at Wisconsin.

On to Villanova

For a half, it looked like the Wisconsin-Virginia Tech winner might not have to play the reigning national champion. Villanova struggled and led No. 16 seed Mount St. Mary’s at the half by 1 point. The Wildcats eventually turned it on and rolled to a 20-point win, but it should give folks at least some pause when thinking about Wisconsin’s chances to advance to the Sweet 16 with a win over top-seeded Villanova on Saturday.

The matchup is one that probably shouldn’t happen in the second round. Wisconsin was underseeded, with two teams that finished behind it in the Big Ten — Minnesota and Maryland — getting higher seeds and taking losses on Thursday.

And while it’s unfortunate for the Badgers to have to play a No. 1 seed this early, how do you think Villanova feels about having to face a Wisconsin squad that was a top-10 team a little more than a month ago?

The Badgers have beaten No. 1 seeds and own a 3-3 record against them. They took out Arizona twice (2000, 2014) on their way to a Final Four, while also beating Kentucky in the national semifinals in 2015. The three losses came to Michigan State in 2000, Maryland in 2002 and North Carolina in 2005.

This group won’t be intimidated facing a team that many think can win back-to-back titles. Be it Josh Hart or Kris Jenkins or any other of the Wildcats’ myriad weapons, they’ll present as stiff a challenge as the Badgers have seen over the last two seasons. It will take their best effort to pull an upset, but this program thrives on being the underdog. No one should be shocked if the Badgers still are dancing Saturday night.

For his brother

The Orr boys always are joking around, so when Zach, the second oldest of four, sat in his family’s De Soto, Texas, home earlier this year and told his brothers his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens was done, they didn’t think he was serious.

“We thought he was playing because he had a little smirk on his face,” said Chris Orr, the youngest brother and a sophomore linebacker at Wisconsin. “We were like, ‘Shut up, stop playing.’ And he’s was like, ‘Nah, I’m for real.’ ”

Zach Orr (54), the brother of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Orr, had to give up football because of a spine/neck condition. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Zach Orr recently had learned that he had a congenital spine/neck condition that somehow hadn’t been caught until then. It put him at risk for serious injury or worse.

“I was just thankful that he was able to play and get to the highest level, get All-Pro, and that he was able to walk away from it on his own [as opposed to] being carried off on a stretcher because it was actually high enough [on the neck] that he could have died on the field,” Chris Orr said. “Thankful he has his life, and thankful he’s able to walk.

“At the same time, it was a big blow because he was forced to walk away from the game. We’d all rather be walking away [on our own choosing].”

It was tough news for a family whose world revolves around football. The boys’ father, Terry, played for the Washington Redskins, while Terrance, the oldest, is a high school coach. Another brother, Nick, is a defensive back for TCU.

For Chris, who suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on the first play of the season against LSU last September, the revelation that his brother’s career was done was more painful than the feeling he had when he was being carried off the turf at Lambeau Field.

Chris Orr is wearing No. 54 in honor of his brother, Zach, whose NFL career came to an end because of a spine/neck condition. (Zach Heilprin/Land of 10)

“That probably hit me harder than my knee,” he said. “Nowadays, ACLs, they’re like nothing. You actually come back a little better.”

Chris returned to the field this week for the first time since the knee injury as the Badgers opened spring practice, and there was something different about him. While his teammates noticed how smooth he was moving while rolling with the first-team defense in the half-speed portions of practice, observers took note of the change in jersey number. Instead of the No. 50 he’d worn his first two years in Madison, Chris was wearing No. 54, the number Zach wore with Baltimore.

“As soon as he said [he was done], I had a thought that I was going to switch my number to 54 to honor him,” Chris said. “Then the next day, I told him I was going to switch it. It made him real happy. It hit him in the heart. I was happy that I was able to do that for him.”

Chris hasn’t been cleared to take part in full-speed practices and estimates he’s about 90 percent recovered. No one doubts he’ll get back to 100 percent, especially now with the added motivation of playing for his brother.

Wisconsin is stacked at inside linebacker with senior Jack Cichy and juniors Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards, but having Orr back provides a boost of energy and playmaking ability.

Catching up

  • Wisconsin coach Greg Gard met the media after his team’s win over Virginia Tech. Here’s what he had to say.
  • Whatever Villanova gets against Wisconsin on Saturday it will have been earned, according to Sean Keeler.
  • From Tom Oates at the Wisconsin State Journal: The Badgers showed great resolve in their win over the Hokies.
  • Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was impressed with Wisconsin’s performance on Thursday night.
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