MADISON, WI – 1/30/2022
By: Mitchell Speltz
“That game went exactly how I thought it would go”, said Greg Gard following Wisconsin’s (17-3, 8-2) win against the Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-7, 2-7). Rivalry games are never meant to be easy, and the Badgers knew they were in for a battle on Sunday afternoon as a team effort guided Wisconsin to their ninth win in their last ten contests. Four of the five starters reached double-figure points in the 66-60 victory as this Badger team once again proved they are more than their star player, Johnny Davis. Wisconsin continues to hold its spot in a first-place tie atop the Big Ten, and now they’ll get the chance to break that tie on Wednesday when they face fellow conference leader Illinois on the road. Before looking ahead, here are my takeaways from Sunday’s action:
- A 16-point performance seems pedestrian for his standards, but I thought this was one of the best games of the season for Johnny Davis. The way Minnesota defended Johnny was very similar to how Michigan State did and he responded to it much better this time around. Against the Spartans, Johnny tried to force up his shots when they weren’t there – Compare that to Sunday’s performance, he was much more disciplined and let his teammates help him out. Gopher’s Head Coach Ben Johnson mentioned following the game they wanted to challenge everything Johnny did and not let him have anything easy. Despite that, Johnny still produced in a significant way by scoring a team-best 16 points thanks to a 6-0 spurt of his own to finish the game and he collected a career-high 15 rebounds. One thing Greg Gard has always stressed to his players is to find ways to contribute other than scoring, and Johnny did just that with his rebounding and defense. His stretch to finish the game just validates how special of a talent he is and why he is in the National Player-of-the-Year conversation.
- Perhaps the most telling stat about this Wisconsin team is their 10-1 record in games decided by 6 points or fewer – Is this luck? Or is there something too this? I do believe most of this is due to this team’s composure and the way they remain calm in crunch time. Greg Gard has said repeatedly that he doesn’t do anything special in the huddle when organizing late-game scenarios, but he credited his team with the way they value each possession throughout the whole game. This aligns with Gard’s theory as the Badgers are currently best in the nation at taking care of the ball with 8.5 turnovers/game. In simplicity, Wisconsin is maximizing their opportunities to score because most possessions end with them putting a shot up and it’s even more impressive considering they are playing faster this season – Those extra shots are often the difference in close matchups.
- Brad Davison is playing the best basketball of his career and his outside shooting has much to do with it. Davison didn’t slow up on Sunday after breaking the program’s career three-point record on Thursday as he’s now made 15 triples over his last 3 games. His four threes against the Gophers was his third straight game with four or more, and his seventh overall on the season – He ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point percentage during conference play at 45%, only trailing Ron Harper Jr. of Rutgers. The Super-Senior has excelled in his role as the team’s three-point specialist, and it’s provided a huge lift to this offense.
AT THE PODIUM:
- “I was thinking about getting a bucket at all costs. It’s crucial to get a basket at that point in the game and I wanted to do whatever I could to deliver” – Johnny Davis on his stretch to finish the game
- “We’re building, moving in the right direction. It’s good to stack wins like this and we are where we want to be right now. We have to keep improving to get where we want to at the end of the year” – Brad Davison on where the team is at right now
- “I think it’s us sticking together. We’re a close group and Coach Gard does a nice job at keeping us together during those late-game situations” – Tyler Wahl on the key to closing out games
- “They were good. We did a good job on Johnny I thought holding him under his average and we challenged all his catches and shots but this is why they’re good, they can all produce” – Gophers Head Coach Ben Johnson on Wisconsin’s supporting cast