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After end-of-year struggles, the Badgers are finally getting rewarded for their resiliency

The Badgers have enjoyed a recent winning streak in the NIT tournament.

The Wisconsin Badgers seemed like an early hit to exceed expectations in the Big Ten after an 11-2 start to the season, which oversaw strong starts from Tyler Wahl and Chucky Hepburn, propelling the team to one of the conference’s best at the time.

However, as conference play began, the Badgers began to spiral, especially after the team lost Tyler Wahl and Max Klesmit on separate occasions to injuries.

Wisconsin ended the season with a 17-14 record, including 9-11 in conference play, missing out on the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 1998.

However, it wasn’t as if the Badgers were a poor team for a majority of the season; instead, they struggled to finish out close games.

Time and time again, the Badgers kept themselves within distance against their conference opponents, but an issue, usually their streaky offense and late-game woes, held them back from achieving the satisfaction that came with results.

It clearly took a toll on the team over the final weeks of the season as pressure mounted, with head coach Greg Gard expressing his desire to just see his team get rewarded for their hard work and resilience following Wisconsin’s 63-61 loss to Purdue on March 2nd.

However, that stretch is in the past, as the Badgers won consecutive games for the first time since January 3rd in the NIT, and now have themselves just 40 minutes away from a chance at a title.

Head coach Greg Gard praised his team’s resilience for sticking through with the process, which has paid off as the season comes to a finish.

“I think the pressure has come off. I could feel it mounting over the last four or five weeks of the regular season as we let game after game slip between our fingertips,” Gard said. “So I’m happy to see them get rewarded and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Despite such a tough end to the season with the number of close-game fallouts, Gard consistently said that his players persevered with strong practices, which has finally shown with the team’s performance in the NIT.

“You all saw the games that we’ve gone through and the gut punches we’ve had, and we did some good things, but we weren’t able to get the satisfaction of the result. And over the course of time, maybe that wears on a team or individual, especially younger guys, and they kept bouncing back. And so I think for them, like I said at the beginning here, for them to get the results and get rewarded for playing two or three possessions better, it’s a fine line.”

There haven’t been many significant changes between the current Badgers and the end-of-season Badgers, but Gard acknowledged how the team has taken advantage of just a few more possessions per game, ultimately tilting the scales in their favor.

“Look at all the games that have gone on here in the last two weeks. The degree of separation is pretty small and you have to do every possession matters, and we say it all the time,” Gard said. “They start hearing that in June when they come in, and it sounds cliche, probably because we say it too much, but just understand how every possession matters.”

Now, it wasn’t a clear-cut decision for Gard to enter the NIT, given the ongoing transfer portal and the need to get better in 2023, but the longtime head coach didn’t want to take away a chance for his team to play together again and grow.

“In hindsight, I’m happy with the decision we made because they’ve approached it the right way and they’ve attacked it the right way.”

With all expectations out the window after missing the NCAA tournament, the Badgers have been playing freely in the NIT, which has attributed to their success thus far in the postseason.

“It’s not just showing up for one game and that bound out, but actually attacking this thing,” Gard said. “And they’re having fun playing and they’re the same team. I think there’s a sense of a weight off their shoulder a little bit that mounted over the last month.”

After accepting the bid for the NIT, Gard’s message was clear: the Badgers were in the tournament to win it.

The gambit has paid off this far, and it’s improved the team’s confidence to an all-time high as they look to end the season on a high note.

“It’s a fine line between it’s a make or miss game and one mistake here or one right play,” Gard stated. “There is the difference. I think confidence comes with getting results.”

The Badgers will look to build off their momentum when they face the North Texas Mean Green in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening for a chance to play in the NIT final.

But, regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, the Badgers have finally been rewarded for their resilience in a down year, and it came via an unexpected source: the NIT.