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UCLA breaks Badger hearts in Hall of Fame Classic Finale

Wisconsin losses on a last-second heartbreaker to No. 23 Bruins, because that’s what happens to Badgers teams who try to have nice things in basketball.

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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.

Grades:

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.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers dropped by Ducks for 1st time in NCAA tourney

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The Wisconsin Badgers return to the NCAA tournament was not a happy one, as they got dumped 72-54 by the No. 12 seed Oregon Ducks on Friday afternoon.

The loss ends the Badgers season earlier than they have seen since an eerily familiar loss to Ole Miss in the first round of the 2013 tournament.

After 20 minutes it was all-square at 25-25, but then the second half happened and Oregon pulled away with 47 points to their name and some quality work on the defensive end of the court.

Oregon freshman guard Payton Pritchard led much of that second half outburst and he ended up with 19 points in the win. The Ducks also got double digit scoring from Louis King (17) and Paul White (14).

Wisconsin was led senior duo Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson, who each had 12 points. No other Badgers player reached double figures.

The game remained close for the first 30 minutes, but that’s where the two teams diverged. Oregon began to be more consistent on offense and suffocated the Badgers on the other end of the court.

UW was doomed largely by an inability to hit from the perimeter, going just 6-of-30 from beyond the arc in the game and shooting just 33.3 percent from the field.

Ironically, Wisconsin cut the Ducks lead to just five points at 50-45 with 7:27 left to play thanks to a D’Mitrick Trice triple.

But, the Badgers went on a nearly three-minute scoring drought late in the game and allowed Oregon to control the game. By the time Happ stopped the bleeding, the Ducks led 59-49 with 3:56 to play.

Wisconsin would make two buckets the rest of the way — both in the final minute when the game was well out of reach.

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Badgers Basketball

5 things to know about Badgers vs. Oregon in NCAA tournament

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When the Wisconsin Badgers saw their name back up in the NCAA tournament bracket after a one-year absence there was much joy.

However, for the fan base there was also much groaning thanks to yet another matchup with the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA tournament. It’s also a team that most fans will know as a dangerous one, even if they are a No. 12 seed.

Oregon is arguably the hottest team in tournament, riding an eight-game win streak. They’ve outscored opponents 72.0 to 54.2 points per game and holding opponents to 34.6 percent shooting from the field and 23.1 percent from beyond the arc.

All of that tells us just how serious the Badgers have to take this matchup with the Pac-12 champions.

So, ahead of Friday’s matchup with the Ducks at 3:30pm CT, let’s look at the 5 things we need to know about this matchup.

5: Wisconsin has allowed just 5 teams to score 70-plus points in a game this season

There’s a reason why the Badgers are ranked 3rd in the country in Adjusted Defense by KenPom.com and thats’ because they don’t let teams score points in droves.

To that point, the Badgers have allowed opponents to score 70 or more points against them in just 5 of 33 games played so far this season.

Furthermore, just two teams this season have scored 80 points or more, with losses in both of those games (84-80 OT to Purdue & 83-76 to Western Kentucky). So, keeping the Ducks offense from getting going is going to be vital.

4: Wisconsin has reached the Sweet 16 in 4 of last 5 seasons

Birth, death, taxes…and the Wisconsin Badgers making the Sweet 16? It’s been almost automatic as of late for UW, who have made it to the second weekend of the tournament in 4 of the last 5 seasons.

The Badgers have also done it in 6 of the last 8 years.

Impressive, right? But did you know that no other team in the country has matched or topped that number? It’s true…it’s damn true.

Additionally, Oregon’s resurgence has come largely thanks to a switch to a “big” lineup with 4 players 6-9 or taller in the starting lineup.

3: Both teams have 3 starters averaging double figures

Both Wisconsin and Oregon will feature three starters each that are averaging double figures this season. Leading all six of those players is Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ (17.5). He’s joined by Brad Davison and D’Mitrick Trice — both of whom are averaging 10.7 points per game.

Oregon is led by freshman guard Louis King (13.1) and is joined by fellow guard Payton Pritchard (12.7) and forward Paul White (10.6).

What this game could come down to is how the rest of the group shows up. UW has been able to count on another big man in Nate Reuvers plenty throughout the season and Khalil Iverson has been a huge presence as of late. Will that continue after nearly a week off?

2: Pritchard scored 20 or more points twice in the Pac-12 tournament

If you need a reason for why the Oregon Ducks are even in the tournament, look no further than the hot hand of Payton Pritchard. In three games in the Pac-12 tournament, Pritchard put up 20 points twice and in the third game he hit for 18 points.

That’s an average of 19.3 points per game and a scary matchup for the Badgers efficient defense to have to deal with.

On the flip side of that hot hand, it does seem as if 20 points is his ceiling on the scoring front. Pritchard has managed to score more than 20 points just once this season, and that happened in the season opener against Portland State in which he put up 22 points in a large win.

1: Ethan Happ is the No. 1 player in the KenPom.com player ratings

In an age of stretch forwards and 7-footers with jump shots galore, Happ is a throwback player who rarely shoots from outside of three feet. But, that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most dominant players in the country. So much so that Ken Pomeroy has him ranked as the No. 1 player in the country.

Not only is Happ averaging 17.5 points, but he is also averaging 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Should he finish the season averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists per game, he would be just the second player in 20 years to accomplish that.

Oh, and Happ is 1 of 6 players in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 boards and 400 assists, joining Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Danny Ferry, Stacey Augmon and John Konchar.

Enjoy his final games in a Badgers uniform.

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Badgers Basketball

Badgers get Oregon again in NCAA tournament

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After bowing out in the Big Ten tournament semi-final on Saturday afternoon, everyone was waiting to find out where the Wisconsin Badgers would be heading in the NCAA tournament.

It didn’t take long to get that answer, as the Badgers were given a No. 5 seed in the South region, which was the second region to be revealed in the selection show.

Their opponent? Oregon. AGAIN.

The destination? Go West young man.

Wisconsin will meet the Ducks in San Jose, Calif. on Friday and the winner will get the winner of Kansas State vs. UC-Irvine in the next round on Sunday.

This will be the third matchup between the two teams in the last five years of the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin has won both previous matchups between these two teams, topping the Ducks 85-77 in a second round matchup. UW would do it all over again the next year, besting the Ducks 72-65 in another second round matchup.

Wisconsin is in the top half of the South region bracket and that could set up another very familiar matchup, as the Virginia Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed in the region.

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Badgers Basketball

5 Things to know about Badgers vs. Nebraska in Big Ten tournament

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The season of redemption has reached the postseason and unlike last year, the Wisconsin Badgers of this season are firmly in the NCAA tournament. There’s no need to win the Big Ten title to get to the dance.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Badgers won’t want to showcase themselves by winning the whole tournament either.

Wisconsin will step on to the United Center court for the first time in the Big Ten tournament on Friday afternoon. Across from them will be a red-hot Nebraska Cornhuskers team, who have won twice — including an upset of No. 5 seed Maryland — to get here.

So, what do we need to know about this matchup and the Badgers in the Big Ten tourney in general? Let’s get it going.

5: Nebraska and the 55-point mark are vital to this game

Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the country this year, ranking 4th in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. That doesn’t bode well for the Nebraska Cornhuskers though, because they’ve only managed to top 55 points in 7 of the 13 previous matchups since joining the Big Ten.

All four of the Badgers losses to Nebraska since they joined the league have come with Nebraska scoring more than 55 points (58 being their lowest in a win over UW). The Huskers are averaging a meager 57.9 points per game against UW overall since joining the B1G.

The Badgers have also held Nebraska to 55 points or less in four of the nine wins in the series since becoming league foes.

4: The Badgers are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament

Let’s just say this program is coming back home when it comes to postseason play, shall we? After all, the Badgers have been amongst the top 4 seeds in the conference tournament in 16 of the last 18 years.

By earning those seeds, one would think the Badgers have a history of success in the tournament or something? Is that true? Let’s find out together.

3: Wisconsin has won 3 Big Ten tournament titles.

That may not seem like a lot, but for those of us who are in our 30’s and can still remember the days without a Big Ten postseason tournament that number is a lot. UW won tournament titles in 2004, 2008 and 2015. So, math tells us they are likely due for another banner to be risen in to the rafters at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin has not been a slouch in the tournament overall either, having played seven more times in the title game and owning a .571 record in the history of the tourney.

2: Happ’s continued run at history

We all know that Ethan Happ is historically good. But, did you know that Happ is on pace to be just the 2nd player in the last 20 years in all of D1 basketball to average 16 ppg, 10 rpg & 4 apg.

Right now, Happ is averaging 17.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game — so he’s well on his way to achieving that mark.

As for the matchup with Nebraska, Happ is averaging 14.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 2.6 apg in five games against them. If he’s going to stay on track for his record-breaking season and career, he’ll likely have to duplicate if not exceed most of those numbers.

1: The Badgers own the Big Ten’s best March winning percentage in last 6 seasons

Winning titles only happens by winning games and the Badgers have a very long history of doing that in March. So much so that its 29-9 (7.63) mark is the best amongst all Big Ten teams during games played in the month of March.

When you say Wisconsin in March, you said it all.

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