Say what you want about Greg Gard and the Badgers in the first half of Wednesday night’s game, or the second half of the Houston game, but let’s make one thing clear about the 2021-22 Wisconsin Badgers: There is ZERO quit in this squad. Absolutely none.
After falling behind 42-25 to unranked Indiana at halftime, it would have been incredibly easy for every single person on the UW bench, both players and staff, to mentally check out of the game, chalk it up to a loss, and look forward to Saturday’s matchup against Ohio State.
Not these Badgers.
I’m not sure if it was what Gard said in the locker room, if a player stepped up and rallied the team, or if Red Panda’s electric performance was what did the trick, but something happened at halftime that lit a fire under Wisconsin.
I’m going to start with the unsung heroes: Ben Carlson, Jordan Davis and Chris Vogt. Shortly before tipoff, Lorne Bowman II, Jahcobi Neath and Markus Ilver were ruled out of the game due to illness (not COVID related). The Badgers were going to need to get quality minutes out of the bench and these three stepped up to the table.
Ben Carlson played a career-high 20 minutes, scored three points and grabbed four huge rebounds. Jordan Davis started the second half and played lockdown defense across 12 minutes, and Chris Vogt was HUGE for the Badgers tonight. In 21 minutes, Vogt scored nine points and secured six rebounds, four of which came off the offensive glass. Wisconsin was +13 with Vogt on the floor.
Johnny Davis did Johnny Davis type things, including a powerful slam dunk in the first half. I mean, Johnny put preseason All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis on a poster. His biggest moment of the game came late in the second half, hitting a corner three to give UW a 60-59 lead, their first lead since being ahead 5-2. Although it wasn’t his best shooting night, Davis continued to find ways to get to the rim and put the ball in the hoop.
This team is NEVER out of games. They grind, hustle, and find ways to crawl back into games that most people have already written them out of. This is not the first time we’ve seen this Badger squad battle and win the tight game. Flashback to the Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship game versus Saint Mary’s.
After being down six points at halftime and as many as 10 in the second half, the gritty Badgers found a way to get the job done. That seems to be the story of the season so far. On Wednesday, after being down as many as 22 points, the Badgers locked the Hoosiers down on the defensive end and made the necessary adjustments to get it going on the offensive end. It was the third double-digit deficit Wisconsin has erased this season.
It certainly helped that Indiana went ice cold from the field over the final few minutes of the game. Over the final three minutes, IU went 1-for-15 from the field and scored a total of 10 points across the last 14 minutes of the contest. Absolutely freezing. Indiana scored a total of 17 second half points, their fewest in any game of the last 15 years. The Badgers played tough defense all night, shutting the Hoosiers down and blocking some huge shots down the stretch (Thank you Tyler Wahl).
Give credit to Greg Gard. Less than a year ago, many were calling on Barry Alvarez to find a new head coach to lead this program. After the recorded meeting incident and quotes from former players about their relationship with Gard, it seemed as if he had lost the locker room.
Now, nine games into the regular season, Gard has a team that was projected to finish in the back half of the Big Ten at 8-1 with wins over Houston, @ Georgia Tech, Marquette, and a 22-point comeback with over Indiana in the Big Ten opener, Wisconsin’s largest comeback win since 1976.
In his post-game presser, Gard said, “Hopefully nobody left early. If they did, that’ll teach them not to give up on this team.” It’s hard to give up on a team that never counts themselves out of a game.