The No. 25 Badgers (16-11 overall, 10-10 Big Ten) and the No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-7 overall, 14-7 Big Ten) were on their way to a classic Big Ten finish. With three and a half minutes to go, the game was tied at 63 points apiece. It had been tight the whole way down. The Badgers were finally hitting their shots and were playing lockdown defense; Wooden Award candidate Luka Garza and Badger kryptonite Jordan Bohannon kept the Hawkeyes in the game.
And then, the referees showed up.
But first, some actual basketball.
The Badgers started the game cold from three-point range like they have for the past few games. Over the course of the first half, the Badgers shot just 2/10 from deep.
Iowa forward Joe Wieskamp started off the game on fire with 12 early points in nine minutes. The sharpshooter went 5-5 from the field including 2-2 from deep, bringing his squad to an early 20-9 lead.
Unfortunately, Wieskamp’s day ended early after he twisted his ankle on sophomore forward Tyler Wahl’s foot. Wieskamp, Iowa’s second-leading scorer, was helped off the court to the locker room. He returned to the bench in the second half in a boot.
Wisconsin’s poor shooting put them in a hole early as they went down by 11 points to end the first. Iowa did not commit a foul for the first 14 minutes of game time.
“We were getting good looks in the first half, we just weren’t hitting them,” said freshman guard Jonathan Davis.
Out of the locker room, the Badgers immediately cut it close. Greg Gard’s team took their first lead of the second half just eight minutes in, and from that point on neither team held a double-digit lead.
The game was a back-and-forth affair down the stretch. Luka Garza, who ended with 21 points and 14 rebounds, was damn near unstoppable. Jordan Bohannon and D’Mitrik Trice finally found their strokes and were hitting late game threes. Trice was playing with four fouls for the latter part of the second half, so Gard was rotating between him and backup point guard Trevor Anderson to keep Trice from fouling out.
The second half had a few tic-tac fouls that were questionable at best. That’s just college basketball, and it’s something you just have to roll with as a player, coach, or fan. But there was nothing that could prepare a college basketball fan for the last two minutes of this game.
It seemed like for every single call, the referees had to go to the monitor to take a look and confirm that they made the right call.
“You have a pocket full of monitor requests,” said Gard postgame. “An endless pocketful of monitor requests. That’s something that needs to be addressed because it’s gotten out of hand.”
The monitor requests were annoying and undeniably disrupted the flow of the game. But they would have been much more bearable if the referees had gotten them right.
With about a minute left in a 71-71 game, Jordan Bohannon took a three-pointer. D’Mitrik Trice ran by him to get the rebound. Even at full speed, it was clear that Trice did not touch Bohannon. The shot didn’t fall, but the whistle blew. Trice had just picked up his fifth foul and Bohannon was headed to the line for three shots.
Greg Gard declined to comment on this foul, saying he was “blocked” and had yet to see the replay as of the postgame presser.
On the Badgers’ next possession, Brad Davison tried to cut into the paint while freshman Keegan Murray guarded him. Their arms got tied up and they each went to the ground. The whistle blows once again.
Common logic would indicate that if a foul is called while a player is driving, it’s generally on the defensive player. And common logic was half correct here.
Murray was called for a common foul. But Davison. Oh boy.
Brad Davison was called for a hook-and-hold, which is a Flagrant 1 foul. Which meant that Davison would shoot two shots, then Murray would shoot two shots and Iowa would get possession.
Greg Gard was rightfully livid, both in the moment and after the game. CBS Sports’ Evan Flood reported that Gard told an official who shall remain unnamed in this piece, “You do this every f****** time.”
The game ended shortly after with the Hawkeyes winning by a score of 77-73. Iowa announced that Luka Garza’s No. 55 would be retired once he left the program. But the story was only beginning.
To put this in perspective, Greg Gard is one of the most level-headed coaches in the conference, if not the NCAA. He hasn’t had a Jim Boeheim or Coach K moment where he went out of his way to embarrass a reporter because he was mad about a bad loss.. Even earlier in the season when the Badgers got some bad, game-losing calls, he never brought it up. Whether it’s a ten-point win or a 20-point loss, Gard’s demeanor is the same 99 times out of 100.
Today was the one outlier.
In his opening statement, Gard set out to make a point against the hook-and-hold call on Brad Davison.
“The area that I really want to address beginning, maybe people have questions about it, is the mockery that has now been made of the hook-and-hold or any type of thing,” started Gard. “It appears to have become a ‘Brad Davison rule’ where it’s become quite frankly a joke. Anytime there’s a foul or a question, the opponents are yelling to the officials to go to the monitor. I saw the play. If college basketball is headed in this direction, we’re in big trouble. It really sickens me that we have games decided like this and this is where it’s at.”
The focus of the postgame press conference was the animosity that the Big Ten’s officials seem to have towards senior guard Brad Davison. As all Badger fans know, Davison has been the center of multiple controversies over the course of his Wisconsin career. Opponents see him as dirty, and many of them have been relishing in the subpar season that he’s been having so far. Gard, and Davison’s teammates for that matter, have had enough.
I feel bad for Brad Davison,” said Gard. “The kid is a great kid, plays his ass off, but he continues to get screwed by this and how the officials, the league and opponents have continued to just call that out and put a spotlight on that. It’s become sickening, really.”
Gard also called out how media companies like ESPN have contributed towards the idea that Davison is a dirty player. During a nationally broadcasted game a few weeks ago, ESPN aired a graphic from a fraudulent Wikipedia page that called Davison a “School Threat” and falsely claimed that he averaged “2.3 dirty plays per game.” Gard noted that ESPN and the game’s broadcasters, Bob Wischusen and Dick Vitale, offered him an apology, but he did not seem appeased by it.
“I’m just trying to protect a player that they put a spotlight on him. I’ve asked the league to stop it. They’ve allowed it to get out of hand. The character of the kid now, with what ESPN did with their Wikipedia thing during one of the games we had. ESPN can issue all the apologies they want,” said Gard. “I got apologies from ESPN, Bob Wischusen and Dick Vitale and the producer and all that. That’s great, but they continue to take shots at the kid. That’s where enough is enough. I’m tired of it, I’m going to call it out when it happens and I’m calling it out today.”
Gard did not seem too concerned about getting contacted by the Big Ten about his comments.
“I’ll be happy to take a call from the league. They know my number. They know where I’m at,” he said.
Davis, who is normally quiet after games, couldn’t hold back his thoughts about the refereeing today either.
“The officiating crew screwed us on that call with Brad,” said Davis. “I feel like every game it’s something with Brad.”
Micah Potter, who had 23 points, smiled when he heard what his head coach said.
“From a player’s perspective, it feels good,” said Potter postgame. “Just having a coach that has your back. There’s that mutual respect level where we’ll fight for him and he’ll fight for us, regardless of the consequences.”
The outrage didn’t end with the Badgers. College basketball fans, players, and writers across the country took note of the outrageous last two minutes of this game.
CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, one of the most well-known college basketball analysts in the nation, tweeted, “To the officials working today's game between Wisconsin and Iowa: Congratulations. You've successfully ruined a heck of a college basketball game. Sincerely, America.”
The Badgers had locked up the No. 6 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament regardless of the outcome of this game. They will play the winner of the 11-seed vs. 14-seed, which will likely be Nebraska (14) vs. Penn State (11). They may not know who they’re playing, but the Badgers are ready.
“Regular season’s over with. We’re 0-0,” said Potter. “We play Thursday night. That’s all we know. Guys are excited for it.”