Late game tournament heartbreak? Let’s just say the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball program is used to it and it happened again on Tuesday night. No. 23 UCLA hit a lay-up with less than a second left on the shot clock and the game clock, leading them to a 72-70 win over Wisconsin.
It came despite a great effort from a changed Badgers lineup and a star-like performance from one of the new starters. Freshmen Brad Davison poured in 14 points and continued to be a catalyst for UW, while star Ethan Happ led the team with 19 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. All of it didn’t matter though, as a string of bad turnovers and UCLA buckets late gave the Bruins the ability to control the game late.
Even four of five starters hitting in double figures wasn’t enough to get the Badgers over the hump against quality competition once again. Instead, it was Aaron Holiday who did the final bit of damage and led the Bruins with 18 points. Holiday was already leading the team in scoring, but put the final nail in the Badgers coffin by driving and hitting a lay-up just in the nick of time with UW pressuring given a low shot clock.
Holiday found a way to get through the trap and had a clear lane to the basket, which went in just before the shot clock expired. Replay confirmed it and UW couldn’t handle a deep pass with 0.9 seconds left to end the game.
UW will come home for an in-state tussle as they host Milwaukee (who owns a win over Iowa State already) and then go on the road to Virginia in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in the next 7 days.
What did we learn from this one? Let’s take a look at some lessons and grades…
Change Worked for Badgers Lineup…Mostly
Something needed to change after the Badgers came out sluggish and were getting none of the needed production out of the perimeter players on Monday night against Baylor. Head coach Greg Gard hinted at some changes, and he inserted freshmen Brad Davison and Aleem Ford in to the starting lineup.
The energy from the team was just different from the opening tip on, with Kahlil Iverson and Ethan Happ owning the paint early and often. But, it wasn’t just the fact that the ball was getting inside more that was impressive, it was just the different energy on both sides of the floor.
Perhaps the best bit of news from the change is that Davison made his coach look really smart for making the move. His 14 points and most importantly, his three made triples (the only one to make more than one for the Badgers), gave plenty of hope for the future.
To Be sure, Ford didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he was solid when needed and unlucky to not have a pair of open three-pointers go in of his own. As far as the changes go, it appears that Gard has found a starting five that can get off to a quicker start and sustain things more long-term. Let’s see if he sticks with this group for a bit longer.
Gard Still Searching for Front Court Rotation
Ethan Happ and Kahlil Iverson play a good game on the inside for the Badgers because their games complement each other. But, could the Badgers get anything out of the likes of juniors Charles Thomas and Alex Illikainen? Gard decided to test that theory early and often in the first half. It was part because there wasn’t much to lose and part to avoid foul trouble for the two starters.
Few answers came though, as Thomas continued to have stone hands on the offensive side of the ball and commit too many errors on defense. Meanwhile, Illikainen did little more than become a decoy on both sides of the ball. The two combined for exactly zero points, no attempted field goals and just two combined rebounds.
Of course, those two aren’t and shouldn’t be expected to be offensive dynamos. Yet, should anything happen in terms of foul trouble to Happ or Ford those two didn’t exactly make the case for the Badgers not to just go small. In fact, there were times where Wisconsin was best off playing Iverson, King, Davison, Trice and Ford (or Pritzl) instead of either of them in the game. There has to be more production from these veteran players if they want to continue to see more than 15 combined minutes a game.
Five Scorers Not Enough
Wisconsin is supposed to be a team built to have multiple players with big efforts, but on Tuesday night only five players scored at all for the Badgers. Four of those five were in double figures, as starters Davison, Happ, Iverson and Trice combined for 61 of the 70 points scored for Wisconsin on the night.
Points and minutes have begun to dry up for the likes of Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet, and rightfully so given the opportunities they have had and the ineffective play given on the court. But, it sure would be nice to know the guys who started red-hot against South Carolina State had any sort of confidence they could score against better competition.
Relying on just five scorers in Big Ten play isn’t going to cut it, unless all five of them are capable of hitting in double figures every night. But, that is walking a tight rope no one wants to see happen. Here’s hoping Pritzl, Ford, Van Vliet or anyone else can show they can score consistently enough going forward.
D’Mitrick Trice: B
Trice needs to be making three-pointers for this team to be really dangerous and to get teams to back off of Happ down low. That didn’t happen on Tuesday night as he was just 1-5 from deep. However, he was efficient inside the arc and was good off the dribble, hitting 4-5 from inside the arc. It wasn’t a great night, but with 14 points it’s hard to be too nit-picky here.
Aleem Ford: F
It may seem harsh, but he was the lone starter to not put up any points and was 0-3 from the field. He also committed three personal fouls and the only other stat was one steal en route to a -2.0 efficiency rating. Ford is a good swing forward in Wisconsin’s offense, but this was not his night. At least he’s got a confident stroke from beyond the arc. It’s not as if anyone else is making moves for starting minutes up front.
Ethan Happ: A
What was there to not like about Happ’s game? Once again he led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Well, he also managed to lead the team in turnovers (with Iverson) at four in this game. A lot of those turnovers came in crucial moments between the two forwards and really need to be cleaned up. So, that’s why he’s not getting an A+ from me at the moment.
Brad Davison: A
Few have made as big an impact in as few games in their career as Davison had coming in to this one. He earned the start and didn’t disappoint in the least. It’s becoming clear who the energy of this team comes from, and that is Davison. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an effective scorer and teammate. Like Happ and Iverson, we’d like to see him cut down on the turnovers (3) and pick up the assists (0), but there’s plenty of time for that. Let this be the day that Davison cemented himself in the starting lineup and became a star for the Badgers.
Kahlil Iverson: B+
I know, getting a 14-point day out of Iverson is good news. But, he missed a few short looks and there was the team-high 4 turnovers to factor in. Iverson was almost unstoppable with his baseline cutting in the first half and overall this was a solid effort. It’s just that we all see the potential and it seems as if he can’t put it all together at once. Overall, a good night for Iverson when he really needed it.
Kobe King: A –
After seemingly becoming buried in the rotation, coming in after the likes of Alex Illikainen, Andy Van Vliet and Charles Thomas, King made sure he was going to make himself useful. He showcased a nice post game a few times and score 9 points on 3-4 shooting in 17 minutes of action. It was a good way to make sure he’s moving to the front of the rotation again.
Brevin Pritzl: F
Pop quiz? Who was only other player with a negative efficiency rating to play in this game for the Badgers? The answer was Pritzl, and that’s because he was 0-3 from deep, had just one assist and did nothing else in 10 minutes of play. For a guy who’s game is a spot-up three-point shooter, he’s been very shaky at that. At least you could live with it when he was also making plays in other facets of the game. Davison’s rise and Pritzl’s inability to hit from deep mean we’re likely to see less and less of Pritzl this season.
Alex Illikainen: F
At least he grabbed an offensive rebound and had an assist on the night, but once again it is getting tougher and tougher to see how he see’s the floor for double-digit minutes unless Happ is in foul trouble. Wisconsin is getting nothing, literally nothing out of him to justify the minutes he is seeing. Tonight would’ve been a good night to showcase something good, and there was just nothing there.