Greg Gard

(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Wisconsin takes trip Down Under with team in transition

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — At some point on Saturday on a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean, Wisconsin coach Greg Gard will settle into his seat to watch scouting video from a laptop computer.

No better way to help fill the time on a 16-hour flight to New Zealand for the Badgers basketball team.

“I think I got plenty of time to read a handbook, watch videos, do a lot of things,” Gard joked.

The NCAA allows schools to go on foreign exhibition tours every four years, an excursion that gives teams 10 practices to prepare for the summer games. It is precious time for coaches and players to work together on and off the court, tasks that otherwise couldn’t start until October.

The last time the Badgers took an international trip, they had a pretty good season.

The program four summers ago played in Canada at a time when the team was also replacing most of its starting lineup. Less experienced players and future stars like Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, along with then-freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, got their first taste of playing together as a team.

Seven months later, they made a run to their first of back-to-back Final Four appearances.

Then-coach Bo Ryan “always talked about how much that trip helped,” said fifth-year senior Aaron Moesch, who was redshirted in 2013-14. The reserve forward is also the only player who was on the roster for both Final Four teams.

“Correlation doesn’t mean causation,” Moesch added before practice on Wednesday in Madison. “But there’s definitely something to be said about having those extra games, especially with a young team.”

Similarly, this five-game, 12-day tour to New Zealand and Australia comes after the program lost four senior starters in Hayes, Koenig, forward Vitto Brown and guard Zak Showalter. The roster has been replenished with a decorated recruiting class, including freshman guard Kobe King, a unanimous selection as Wisconsin’s state prep player of the year.

Practices so far have been energetic. Returnees will assume new responsibilities, and everyone is feeling out their respective roles.

“That’s what has been nice about this summer — we’ve covered things normally you don’t cover until October and November. Terminology, scheme, philosophy, specifically the defensive end of things,” Gard said. “I’m excited for these guys to put all that knowledge and work they’ve committed to do, to work over there and see what happens.”

Big man Ethan Happ is one of the holdovers on the team whose role will expand this season. The 6-foot-10 junior with the dominating post game might become an even bigger focal point of the offense with Hayes and Koenig gone.

Happ will use the trip to New Zealand and Australia to continue working on skills that he has focused on this offseason, including his outside shot, as well as ball-handling and decreasing turnovers.

“Then as a team basically just see who’s ready and willing to work on the floor,” Happ said. “It’s easy to do in practice, but it’s a lot different when the lights are on. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up.”

Wisconsin lands third 2017 commit in point guard Davison

Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP
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With Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter both entering their senior campaign, Wisconsin was in a position where they needed to add depth to the point guard position in the Class of 2017. Monday night they did just that, as 6-foot-3 point guard Brad Davison announced via his Twitter account that he will attend Wisconsin.

Davison is the third commitment in Wisconsin’s 2017 recruiting class, joining fellow guard Kobe King and power forward Nathan Reuvers with Reuvers also being a Minnesota native. A native of Maple Grove, Minnesota, Davison plays his grassroots basketball for the Howard Pulley Panthers program on the Nike EYBL circuit.

“Davison had a tremendous spring and was a big reason Howard Pulley was one of the better teams in the EYBL,” NBC Sports recruiting analyst Scott Phillips said of Wisconsin’s latest commit. “With solid size for a shooter, Davison can knock down perimeter looks and he also had a very sound assist-to-turnover ratio. Davison isn’t a number one option, but he fits Wisconsin’s system and knows how to play basketball. This is another solid get for Wisconsin in the 2017 class.”

Wisconsin did add a point guard in the 2016 class with the late signing of D’Mitrik Trice, the younger brother of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice. But there was still a need for another option who can run the point for Greg Gard’s team, and Davison fits the bill.

Wisconsin removes head coach Greg Gard’s interim tag

Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP
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According to a report Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has identified the man he believes to be the best fit to run the Wisconsin men’s basketball program moving forward: Greg Gard.

It was reported by the Wisconsin State Journal Monday afternoon that Gard will be officially introduced as the head coach Tuesday, with the school’s Board of Trustees meeting Monday night to approve the move. Monday night, the school made the news that Gard would be the head coach official. Gard was a longtime assistant under Bo Ryan, who announced his retirement following a win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi December 15.

Gard took over in an interim role at that point, and after a 1-4 start to Big Ten play the Badgers turned things around in a big way. Wisconsin won 11 of its final 13 Big Ten games, and as the interim head coach Gard put together an overall record of 13-6. The move made by the school to make the listing for the position public a couple weeks ago was seen as a positive sign for Gard, and that appears to have been the case.

The official start date for the job in the posting was March 8, which is Tuesday.

Swanigan, Thompson lead No. 15 Purdue past Wisconsin 91-80

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Freshman Caleb Swanigan scored a career-high 27 points and sophomore P.J. Thompson also set a career best with 22, leading No. 15 Purdue to a 91-80 victory against Wisconsin on Sunday.

A.J. Hammons added 16 points and Vince Edwards had 11 for the Boilermakers (24-7, 12-6), who forced a four-way tie for third place in the Big Ten with Maryland, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Purdue earned the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play in Friday’s second semifinal against an opponent to be determined.

Nigel Hayes led Wisconsin (20-11, 12-6) with 30 points, including 18 in the second half. The Badgers earned the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament and will play Thursday in Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Badgers, who had a four-game winning streak snapped, are the reigning Big Ten Tournament champs.

After Thompson made five first-half 3-pointers, the Badgers were forced to extend their defense and Swanigan, Purdue’s power forward, had a 23-point second half. The Boilermakers will take a three-game winning streak into the Big Ten tourney.

The Boilermakers opened the second half with a three-point play from Swanigan and a steal and dunk from Edwards to seize a 50-39 lead with 18:12 remaining. Swanigan’s layup pushed the advantage to 52-39 at the 17:09 mark.

Purdue shot 63 percent (17 of 27) during the first half and led 45-39 through 20 minutes, getting 15 from Thompson on 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

After Wisconsin, which shot 57.1 percent in the half (16 of 28) took a 29-21 lead, the Boilermakers finished the half outscoring the Badgers 24-10, including six 3-pointers. Purdue also outrebounded Wisconsin 13-7 during the first 20 minutes, when Hayes scores 12 for the Badgers.

TIP-INS

Wisconsin: Entering the Purdue game, the Badgers were 11-1 since a Jan. 12 loss at Northwestern, losing only at second-ranked Michigan State on Feb. 18. … In its eight most recent games, Wisconsin is 72 of 175 from 3-point range (41.1 percent), averaging nine made 3s in those eight contests. … The Badgers have won 20 games for a 10th consecutive season and have won at least 12 Big Ten games for a seventh consecutive year.

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ non-starters outscored the opponent’s bench in 28 of the first 30 games. … Entering the Wisconsin game, center A.J, Hammons had scored in double figures 11 consecutive times … The Boilermakers’ 46.5 field goal percentage is the program’s best since the 1997-98 team shot 48.4 percent. … Purdue entered having won 22 of its last 23 home games.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Big Ten Tournament, TBA

Purdue: Big Ten Tournament, TBA

AUDIO: Former Badger Kaminsky expresses support for Greg Gard

Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP
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With the University of Wisconsin formally posting its head basketball coach opening on Friday, athletic director Barry Alvarez has taken the next step in the process of naming a successor for the retired Bo Ryan. Under state law, which is common for public institutions, before a hire can be made the position needs to be posted publicly and there have to be multiple interviews of candidates.

Does this mean that interim head coach Greg Gard will be the choice? That remains anyone’s guess, but the timing is seen by many as a positive development for the coach who has led the Badgers to nine wins in their last ten games. Gard, who served as Ryan’s assistant throughout the latter’s tenure in Madison, certainly has his supporters with one being former Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky.

Kaminsky discussed the matter on his “Year One” radio show that he co-hosts with Justin Termine on Sirius/XM NBA Radio, noting that he’s “going to be very upset if [Gard] does not have the job come next year.”

Termine:  “And just by talking to other people is that the direction a lot of the former players want them to go in, with Greg Gard?”

Kaminsky:  “Yeah, absolutely.  It’s what everyone wants.  It’s what everyone’s always wanted.  That’s why he stuck around for so long.  I mean, he definitely had opportunities to take other head coaching jobs, he just didn’t want to do it because he wanted this job.  And now he’s done it and now he’s doing very well with it and I think he deserves to keep it moreso than anyone else.  You’d hate to have some tradition that he and Coach Ryan built together just be handed to someone else.”

After losing four of its first five Big Ten games, Wisconsin’s now 10-5 in conference play after picking up a 67-59 win at No. 8 Iowa Wednesday night. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have led the way, but the strides made by players such as forward Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown have been just as important for the Badgers. That’s helped Wisconsin, which at one point this season appeared destined for the NIT, develop into a team capable of having success in next month’s NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin beats No. 8 Iowa, continuing recent hot streak

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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As one of the Big Ten’s most improved players, Iowa’s Peter Jok has become a primary offensive option alongside Jarrod Uthoff for one of the conference’s best teams. And in the first half of Wednesday’s game against Wisconsin the junior was nearly unstoppable, scoring 17 of Iowa’s 34 first-half points. Wisconsin needed to slow him down in order to win, and thanks in large part to the defense of Zak Showalter the Badgers managed to do just that.

Jok scored just four points in the second stanza thanks to Showalter, and thanks to contributions throughout the lineup Wisconsin produced a 67-59 victory in Iowa City. At one point 9-9 on the season (1-4 in Big Ten play), Wisconsin’s now won nine of its last ten games. And at 10-5 in conference play Greg Gard’s team is still a factor in the Big Ten title race, something that few envisioned for this team six weeks ago.

Bronson Koenig scored 15 points and Nigel Hayes ten, and while they’ve matured throughout the season so has the rest of the roster. The role players made the difference Wednesday night, be it Showalter with his defense or reserves such as Charlie Thomas and Khalil Iverson providing a needed spark off the bench. Wisconsin received 23 points from its bench compared to four for Iowa, and that combined with Wisconsin’s defense was the difference.

Jok was quiet in the second half thanks to Showalter, and Wisconsin also limited Jarrod Uthoff to 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Earlier in the season Iowa was receiving points from a host of players, so even with Uthoff playing at an All-American level and Jok not far behind Fran McCaffery’s team proved incredibly difficult to slow down offensively. That hasn’t been the case of late, one reason why Iowa’s lost three of its last four games.

If Iowa, which now trails Indiana by a game in the Big Ten standings, is to win the conference title it will need more from the likes of Mike Gesell (four points, 2-for-9 FG) and Dom Uhl (two points, 1-for-4 shooting) than they’ve received in recent games.

With its defense Wisconsin made those players beat them, and Iowa couldn’t get it done. Hayes and Koenig will continue to lead the way for the Badgers as this team approaches the NCAA tournament. But the reason why Wisconsin will hear its name called when the field is announced, not to mention be a threat to win once there, is the fact that the players who aren’t the headliners have improved throughout the course of the season.

And that’s a credit to the players and their head coach, who continues to strengthen his case to have the interim tag removed.