After a short handed, going through adversity Wisconsin team that upended Michigan State on February 1, Tom Izzo foreshadowed the imminent challenge.
“This is the oldest story in sports,” Izzo said after the 64-63 loss to UW. “Wisconsin’s challenge will be ‘Can they come back the next game?’ Because it’s always the first game when you’re going through adversity that you reach down and play at a different level.”
Izzo was absolutely accurate.
Four days later, the roar of the victory over MSU turned into a whimper against the Gophers at The Barn.
Playing with no urgency, efficiency and little physicality, the Badgers trailed wire-to-wire in an 18-point loss to Minnesota that left the Badgers at 13-10 overall and 6-6 in Big Ten play.
“Leaving Williams Arena,” junior Brad Davison recalled, “Basketball wasn’t the first thing on my mind with everything else that was going on.”
With Howard Moore gone for the season due to a tragic car accident last May, Kobe King quitting the team and strength & conditioning coach Erik Helland resigning, Davison was dealing with the backlash of his one-game suspension that the Big Ten gave him for a flagrant foul against Iowa.
“I was just trying to make sure the wheels didn’t fall off,” head coach Greg Gard admitted. Gard circled the Bucky Wagon and made sure everybody was aboard.
“Let’s handle everything that’s going to come at us in the next couple days,” Gard told everyone. “And let’s have a good practice and get ready for Ohio State.”
UW didn’t have time to feel sorry for themselves. Nor did they before taking the Kohl Center floor against the Buckeyes on February 9th.
“We knew what we had in our locker room,” Davison said. “We knew the talent we have. We knew the opportunity we had in front of us with the games we had left and we wanted to attack it.”
Davison did concede, “I don’t think any one of us would have imagined necessarily winning seven in a row to have a shot at this title. But with that being said, there’s never been a lack of confidence in each other and in our abilities to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.”
Tomorrow, the Badgers will be playing for at least a share of the Big Ten Title at Indiana, something no one outside of the locker room dreamt was possible after the Minnesota loss.
Many teams, including this one, could have fell apart and fell victim to the adversity they faced this season and gone through the motions. Instead, the Badgers pulled together and Greg Gard is at the forefront of the B1G Coach of the Year discussion.
Adversity has brought out the best in Gard, and his assistants Joe Krabbenhoft, Dean Oliver and Alando Tucker who took over for Howard Moore, now on medical leave.
“He learned from one of the best to handle the ups and downs of a season,” Joe Krabbenhoft said referencing former UW head coach Bo Ryan who mentored Greg Gard.
“Coach Gard was prepared for these moments, prepared for rough stretches here and there. But going back to Coach Moore’s family accident, no one is prepared for that.”
You come back to the philosophies we’ve been raised on with UW basketball. The Badgers have gotten better this season, stayed committed to the things the program knows will work, taken care of the ball, played stout defense and have found their offense along the way.
The Badgers have a chance to do something special tomorrow, and the players and staff deserve it.