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Wisconsin holds on for 81–80 win over Western Kentucky

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MADISON — The Wisconsin Badgers needed a win on Wednesday night, and without two significant contributors at guard, it was expected to be a grind for an unproven team.

Against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, that was definitely the case.

At one point up by 11 points midway through the second half, Wisconsin allowed Western Kentucky back into the game, but a Brad Davison free throw with two seconds remaining allowed the Badgers to squeak out an 81–80 win at the Kohl Center.

Davison connected on one of two free throw attempts after drawing a foul on Wisconsin’s side of the court off an in-bounds pass.

“So that was Coach ‘Krab’ [Joe Krabbenhoft] and and Coach Gard drew it up after we called timeout the first time because we saw that they had someone guarding the ball throwing it in,” said Davison, who scored 16 points on the night. “My job was just to let him run me over, and then it would be a foul on them.

“Just a really good play call by Coach, and it worked perfectly so we’ll take it.”

According to redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl, the in-bound passer on that particular play, he had a pretty easy assignment.

“I just did my job and ran back-to-back [on the baseline] and made sure he [Davison] got hit,” Pritzl said.

Head coach Greg Gard said he took a timeout because he was “a little nervous” where the team was going to throw the ball and wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page.

“Then as Joe saw something and I looked at the same thing with the in-bounder and how he was playing,” Gard said. “We had options behind that if he didn’t run him over to be able to advance the ball up to people up the floor that were running different routes.

“We practiced it a few times. It’s the first time I’ve seen it work in a game.”

On the other hand, Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury believed Davison was out of bounds on the play.

“I’m not going to put the blame on one play, but as it turned out, it was an important play,” Stansbury said. “If he’s out of bounds, he’s an illegal screener and he’s out of bounds, so that’s just where that’s is.

“It’s one of those plays, you know, we’re supposed to go to the monitor last two minutes to look at things. To me, that’s an important thing to go to the monitor for. They said he couldn’t go. What else is more important to go to the monitor for late in the game?”

Both Davison and Pritzl thought he stayed within the lines on the court.

“I think it was legal because I just tried to make sure that I was in-bounds and I was outside the restricted area,” Davison said. “I know that you’re not allowed to set a screen out of bounds, and really I just stood there.”

Pritzl had a more direct response.

“I had a great view, he wasn’t out of bounds,” he said, which elicited laughs from reporters.

Though one of the last plays of the game may be viewed as the dominant storyline in the win, four Badgers scored in double figures on Wednesday, with Pritzl and Ethan Happ both contributing 17 points each. Pritzl connected on 6-of-9 shooting, including four of five from three-point range, while Happ also registered six assists and four rebounds.

Aleem Ford added 14 points on 4 of 5 shooting, all from three-point range.

“They just zoned in on Ethan, and they usually double off of my guy, so Ethan did a good job of finding me in the right spots,” Ford said, “and i just knocked down my shots today.”

For the game, UW shot 60 percent from downtown (12-of-20), 54.9 percent (28 of 51) from the field altogether.

Lamonte Bearden, a Milwaukee, Wis., native, scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the second half for Western Kentucky (6-4). Guard Darius Thompson registered 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, with three other players scoring 10 or more points in the loss.

Wisconsin (5-7, 1-1 Big Ten) hit its first four shots, including three from deep, to get out to an early lead. After Western Kentucky tied the game at 13–13 with 12:54 remaining in the first half, UW went on a 14–4 run in a 5:11 span. That included three consecutive three-pointers by T.J. Schlundt, Ford, and Pritzl, respectively.

The Hilltoppers answered back with an 18–5 run, including a 14–0 stretch, to take a 38–34 lead into halftime. At one point during the swing in momentum, Western Kentucky connected on seven of eight shots, with the Badgers also not scoring in a 3:44 span as well until Davison’s two free throws brought the deficit down to three with 2:40 left in the first half.

Wisconsin allowed Western Kentucky to shoot 58.6 percent (17 of 29) while cooling off to 41.4 percent (12 of 29) and committing seven turnovers. The one bright spot for the Badgers was three-point shooting, where the team connected on 7 of 13 attempts.

UW started the second half on a 9–2 run to regain the lead at 43–40 with 17:43 left in the game thanks to three consecutive threes by Pritzl, Davison, and Ford. The two teams kept it close with Western Kentucky taking a one-point lead after a Marek Nelson lay-up, but Wisconsin responded with a 13–5 run in a 2:16 stretch to make it 65–54, again aided by the likes of Pritzl and Ford.

Western Kentucky countered with a 17–6 run of its own, with a Jake Ohmer steal and lay-up tying the game at 71–71 with under five minutes to play. Ohmer scored 12 points against the Badgers on 5-of-9 shooting.

Again a spark plug to keep the team charged, Davison connected on a mid-range shot to put WIsconsin up two, and Happ’s lay-up two possessions later stretched it to a four-point advantage. The Hilltoppers then pulled within two points at 78–76 with 52 seconds to play after Bearden’s free throw completed a three-point play.

Davison’s turnover allowed WKU the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead with 42.1 seconds, but he drew another charge and proceeded to hit one of two free throws to make it a 79–76 game.

However, after attempting to rebound the miss, he drew his third personal foul on Hollingsworth, who proceeded to drain both free throws to make it a one-point Wisconsin advantage with 26 seconds left.

Western Kentucky wasted precious time, eventually fouling Pritzl with under eight seconds left to play but the redshirt junior hit just one of two free throws. Thompson then tied the game at 80–80 with two seconds left in regulation.

Davison showed his craftiness on the inbounds, positioning himself to draw a foul on Nelson to send him to the line to win the game. After connecting on the first free throw, he deliberately missed the second, forcing the Hilltoppers into a mad scramble.

“He wasn’t very happy with my missed free throw because he told me to miss the free throw but it never really processed in my mind that I should get arc and have a soft rebound, so that was my fault,” Davison said. “I was just going to hit the rim and be done, but he said that was kind of a risky play so that was my fault.”

Stansbury admitted after the game that though the call would be “magnified,” other factors played a role in his team’s loss.

“It didnt’ beat us,” Stansbury said. “You can go back to some free throws. Minute and a half before that, we missed two. You go back and not getting some stops when we needed to.”

A last-second, desperation heave by Western Kentucky only hit backboard and secured the much-needed Wisconsin win.

“Obviously, extremely happy for our guys,” Gard said. “The stretch they’ve been through, the teams that they’ve played, the places they’ve been. They’ve been tested and had their feet to the fire maybe a little sooner than they were ready for, but I’m extremely proud of how they responded tonight.

“Not always pretty, but continue to find a way, and that’s the one thing that I’ve never had to worry about with this group is their resiliency and their ability to bounce back and come back to practice the next day.”