Freshman guard Brad Davison spent the majority of the first half of Wisconsin’s 80-70 to No. 15 Xavier (3-0) pestering Musketeer players, making contested jump shots and pumping his fists in excitement. But in the Badgers’ (2-1) first loss of the season, his inexperience was also on full display.
Trailing by three points with 1:47 to play, Davison drove to his right thinking he had an open lane for a layup. He didn’t jump stop or pump fake his defender, two moves that both Davison and head coach Greg Gard said he should have done when reflecting on the play after the game, and his shot, as a result, was swatted away. On the ensuing XU possession, Xavier forward Trevon Bluiett buried his second 3-pointer in as many possessions and the Badgers found themselves trailing by six with 1:07 remaining.
Yet, while Wisconsin showed its youth at times in its 10-point defeat, it also showed its high potential.
“Every experience for these guys is a chance to grow,” head coach Greg Gard said. “They competed and I like the way they battled.”
Redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ led the charge with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. He finished with a career-high eight assists as well, but the Milan, Ill., product scored only two points in the game’s final 2:25, a pair of free throws with five seconds remaining.
But UW’s inexperience was apparent not just in the final two-plus of the contest as Xavier closed the game on a 14-4 run, but early on as well.
In the first half, the Badgers played uncharacteristically poor transition and interior defense, allowing the Musketeers to score on six of their first seven possessions. Gard said after the game that UW’s shot selection also could have been better at times and that while the final rebounding margin was only 37-28 Xavier, Wisconsin could have been more physical on the boards.
Additionally, while the Badgers held Bluiett in check for most of the night, they allowed senior guard J.P. Macura to get going early and often as he finished with 20 points and took advantage of inexperienced defenders on back cuts and baseline curls.
Still, the Badgers responded to XU’s early blitz and closed the first half on a 9-0 run to head into the locker room tied at 34.
Xavier led by seven points with just under seven minutes to play, but again Wisconsin would claw back.
A 3-pointer by redshirt freshman forward Aleem Ford tied the game at 64 with 4:01 to play and the Badgers would take their first lead since the 19:20 mark of the second half when sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice nailed a long 2-point jumper with 2:44 remaining.
But as the Kohl Center crowd roared in excitement, anxious to witness how a young UW would close out its first true test of the season, Bluiett, a two-time First Team All-Big East selection, promptly quieted the crowd.
His first 3-pointer in the final 2:25 came after he lost junior forward Khalil Iverson on his way to the top of the arc. Wisconsin didn’t follow its rules in terms of chasing him Gard said after the game, and the result proved to be costly.
Bluiett finished with a game-high 25 points as four Musketeers finished the game in double figures. Sophomore forward Pritzl chipped in 13 points in 16 minutes for UW and Davison finished with 12 points and four steals off the bench.
But despite the loss, as Happ, the lone returning starter on the 2017-’18 Badgers team, reflected on only UW’s third home defeat since Jan. 17, 2016, he was optimistic about where Wisconsin is headed.
“It’s a game of inches,” he said. “And they made more plays down the stretch, but I’m really proud of how our guys played tonight.”