SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Ticker) -- Without 7-1 center Loren Woods, West Region top seed Arizona managed only one win in the NCAA Tournament.
With Woods sidelined due to a back injury, his Arizona teammates got behind defensive-minded Wisconsin early and fell, 66-59, to the eighth-seeded Badgers.
Mark Vershaw led the way with 15 points and Maurice Linton added 14 for Wisconsin (20-13), which methodically moves on to Albuquerque, New Mexico to play fourth-seeded Louisiana State on Thursday.
It is the first time the Badgers have won two games in an NCAA Tournament since they captured the 1941 national title.
"It's indescribable," said Wisconsin forward Andy Kowske, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds. "Coming in here as the eighth seed and having to come back to make the Sweet 16 is indescribable. It's the best feeling in the world." This is the first time Wisconsin has won 20 games in consecutive seasons and there was little doubt about win No. 20. When Jon Bryant hit a 3-pointer early in the game to make it 7-4, the Badgers had the lead for good.
"They accepted the game plan and employed it as close to the letter as was humanly possible," Badgers coach Dick Bennett said. "To defend a great offensive team like Arizona is something I'll remember for a long, long time." Freshman Gilbert Arenas scored 21 points and Rick Anderson added 12 for Arizona (27-7), which beat Stanford near the end of the regular season without Woods and shared the championship of the Pac-10 Conference with the Cardinal.
"It's very obvious that the better team won this from the standpoint of maturity and toughness," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "It's a difficult lesson to learn but it's obvious that Wisconsin's maturity and toughness is something that our freshmen and sophomores have to be aware of if we want to get to where we want to get as a team.
"You can't worry about who you don't have," Olson said. "You have to play with who you have and that's why I'm really proud of these guys. They battled really hard all year long and right to the end." Arenas hit a jumper 45 seconds into the game to give Arizona its only lead. Vershaw tied it with a pair of free throws and Mike Kelley made a layup off his own steal for a 4-2 Wisconsin lead. Arenas made a jumper with 15:52 left in the first half to forge the final tie and Bryant connected from long range 16 seconds later to put Wisconsin ahead for good.
The Badgers quickly built the lead to five and extended it to 21-12 on Vershaw's 3-pointer with 10:53 remaining. Arenas scored at the halftime buzzer to close Arizona with 28-23.
Kowske hit a pair of jumpers around a layup by Vershaw as the Badgers opened a 35-25 edge by the 16:14 mark of the second half. Kowske's tip-in at 12:41 extended the margin to 41-27 and a dunk by Duany Duany gave them their biggest lead, 50-33, with 8:07 left.
Arizona finally woke up with a 7-0 run, capped by Anderson's 3-pointer with 6:35 to play. Bryant countered from long range to push the lead back to 53-40 and Wisconsin had a 56-44 edge when the Wildcats made their final run, scoring six straight points. But they never got closer than five and did not pose a real threat take the lead.
"They made us play out of our game and do something we're not used to," said Arizona's Richard Jefferson, who scored seven points.
"They defend as well as anybody you're going to see," Olson said. "They get in your face and they have quick hands. They created a lot of problems with their physical toughness." Wisconsin shot 49 percent (22-of-45) from the floor and was 17-of-20 from the line, easily overcoming a 37-26 rebounding disadvantage. Kelley had eight points, four assists and five steals.
"It's what he puts first," Kelley said of Bennett's philosophy of defense. "He instills from the day we get on campus that defense is what's going to come first. We drill it first in practice, then the preseason and the offseason." .