Ethan Happ’s team hasn’t been closing out games. After another late collapse, this time against Temple, the frustration is starting to boil over for the redshirt junior forward and his teammates.
“The biggest thing is just playing a full 40 [minutes]. Games that we've been right there in, it's been 20 minutes here and then a letdown for three and the lead gets away from us,” Happ said. “If I were a freshman on a stage like this … I think it’s just natural for someone to tighten up.”
Happ is quick to take some of the blame on his own shoulders, but as the Marquette Golden Eagles (6-3) come to the Kohl Center Saturday morning, it will take a full team effort for the Badgers (1-1 Big Ten, 4-6 overall) to get back in the win column.
The Milan, Ill., native’s analysis of UW’s struggles is spot on. In the last three minutes of competitive games this year, the Badgers have been categorically abysmal, getting outscored by 70.1 points per 100 possessions.
If that number seems outlandish, that’s because it is. In just 21 minutes of closeout situations, UW has been outscored by an astonishing 32 points. In just 41 late-game possessions, it’s given up 64 points, or 1.54 points per possession. By comparison, Arizona State currently leads the country averaging 1.26 points per possession over the course of an entire game.
So what’s gone wrong for head coach Greg Gard’s young team? The most obvious answer is that, for such a young team so early in the season, it could take a while for the players to start to gel. But assistant coach Howard Moore said that that narrative has run its course.
“We’ve got a lot of games under our belt. You go back to Australia, to now, that youth excuse is pretty much worn out,” he said.”We gotta play and we gotta play smart. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot when we have opportunities to put a team away.”
The Badgers will have to be especially smart Saturday, as the Golden Eagles feature one of the more deadly offenses in college basketball.
Led by Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey — who have combined to score 44 points per contest — Marquette has no problem putting the ball in the basket. Its big three of Howard, Rowsey and Sam Hauser have made a jaw-dropping 41.4 percent of its 217 three-point attempts.
Avoiding an outburst from one of those three, Moore said, will be critical to keeping the Golden Eagles at bay. And with this in-state rivalry game the last before the easiest stretch of UW’s schedule, the value of picking up a signature win can’t be overstated.
The Badgers will return home slightly banged up, as sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice sat out practice Thursday while freshman guard Brad Davison was knocked out of practice with a hand injury, though he later returned.
Should either of the two be limited, it could mean more minutes for redshirt junior guard T.J. Schlundt, who saw a career-high nine minutes against Ohio State earlier in the year.
Tipoff from the Kohl Center is set for 11 a.m.