Wisconsin Basketball: Badgers Survive in Greg Gard’s Debut

The Wisconsin basketball team survived a comeback in Greg Gard’s debut

The Greg Gard era began as well as any Wisconsin basketball fan could ask for until some tense moments late in the game. The Wisconsin Badgers led 68-38 in the second half and held on to defeat the UW-Green Bay Phoenix 84-79 on Wednesday night in the Kohl Center in Gard’s first game as the Badgers’ head coach.

For the first time since March 2001, Bo Ryan was not pacing in front of the Badgers bench, which was a strange sight to see. Gard has begun his head-coaching career 1-0, as the Badgers improved to 8-5 overall in their final non-conference game of the season.

All Gard had to do was look back at what worked in his scouting report against Green Bay last season in a 84-60 home victory. In last year’s game, Nigel Hayes scored a career-high 25 points with 11 rebounds, Frank Kaminsky finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, and Sam Dekker scored 19.

Wisconsin used the same strategy this year and found the paint against the undersized Green Bay roster. Hayes scored a team-high 24 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field and made all nine free throws. Ethan Happ finished with 16 points with eight rebounds, and Vitto Brown scored 15 points and grabbed nine boards. The Badgers finished with 32 points in the paint and outrebounded Green Bay 46-35.

When it was not open inside, Wisconsin’s big men kicked out for an open jumper. The Badgers saw a lot of open looks and shot 27 of 55 (49.1 percent) from the floor. Going inside also put Wisconsin on the line 32 times, and the Badgers made 23 of their free throws.

Gard went to the bench early, and the Badgers went nine players deep prior the halfway point of the first half. With Zak Showalter and Bronson Koenig limited in the first half with foul trouble, Jordan Hill came in and made a huge difference as Wisconsin pulled away in the first half.

Coming into the game, Hill had no points, no assists and one rebounds in seven game appearances this year. With the Badgers’ backcourt in foul trouble, Hill ran the point and scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds and dished out two assists in the first half. He earned valuable minutes going against a defense that averages the second most steals per game in the country.

Green Bay came into the game averaging 85.4 points per game, but the Badgers’ defense tightened up as Green Bay went scoreless for nearly 10 minutes in the first half. The Badgers went into halftime with a 48-27 lead.

After leading by 30 points in the second half, the Badgers struggled mightily with Green Bay’s pressure defense and turned the ball over on eight consecutive possessions. The Badgers finished with 26 turnovers, including eight from Koenig, who sat the majority of the first half with two fouls. Koenig shot 2 of 8 from the field and scored six points.

Led by Carrington Love‘s game-high 28 points, the Phoenix cut down Wisconsin’s lead quickly with a 23-3 run late in the second half and came within three points with 59 seconds left. The Badgers made a few stops on defense and made five straight free throws to put the game away. It was an ugly finish to what was a phenomenal start to the game.

The turnovers were alarming and something that will need to be fixed before Big Ten play begins on Dec. 29 against Purdue. After seeing how Wisconsin handles the full-court press, opponents will surely pressure put more pressure on the Badgers in conference play.

The Badgers avoided a sweep from the state of Wisconsin and are now 1-0 under their new head coach, but Gard’s squad has a lot to work on with the 26 turnovers that would be tough to overcome in a Big Ten game.

Stay tuned to Badger of Honor for continued coverage of the Wisconsin basketball team.