As redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ reflected on Wisconsin’s 80-70 loss to Xavier last Thursday night, he interestingly couldn’t help but smile.
“I feel like a coach, but I’m just really proud of the guys, very proud of how we responded,” Happ told reporters after the game. “It’s a game of inches. And they made more plays down the stretch, but I’m really proud of how our guys played tonight.”
Head coach Greg Gard voiced a similar sentiment, noting that despite the loss, he was impressed with how his young Badger team responded to its first true test of the season.
Monday evening marks UW’s first road test of the year as the Badgers (2-1) head to Kansas City, Mo. to face off against No. 25 Baylor (3-0) in the first of two games in the 2017 Hall of Fame Classic.
The Bears have opened their season with three straight blowout victories. Their competition has been rather light, however, as BU knocked off Central Arkansas by 41 points, Texas A&M Corpus Christi by 24 and Alcorn State by 17.
Wisconsin will almost certainly serve as more of a challenge.
While Baylor lost Jonathan Motley to the NBA after last season, much of the Bears’ current roster is comprised of experienced pieces. Four of its five starters are upperclassmen and, of its eight players that play more than 20 minutes per game, six are upperclassmen.
Senior guard Manu Lecomte, a 5’11’ guard from Belgium, leads the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 20.7 points per game and is tone-setter in BU’s backcourt. Inside, senior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is averaging 12.0 points and 10.3 rebounds and is additionally one of the best shot blockers in the country.
Acuil Jr., though, has previously struggled playing solid post defense, so look for Happ and the Badgers to try and exploit the senior center on the interior.
Wisconsin has leaned on Happ early and often this season. Through three games, the junior forward leads UW in points, rebounds and assists.
Last Thursday, the Badgers and Musketeers were tied 66-66 all with 2:25 to play before a 14-4 run to close the game gave XU the victory. Xavier head coach Chris Mack chalked up his team’s run in the final two-plus minutes to experience and UW’s lack thereof.
Monday night, Wisconsin is hoping to learn from its recent shortcomings and upset yet another veteran team. Tipoff for UW-Baylor is set for 8:30 p.m. CT with the winner set to meet the winner of Creighton-UCLA Tuesday evening.