Greg Gard challenges Badgers' toughness after Wisconsin falls to Rutgers to remain winless on road

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Greg Gard challenges Badgers' toughness after Wisconsin falls to Rutgers to remain winless on road

Post by admin » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:40 am

For once, it wasn’t poor shooting that doomed the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team in a road loss.

It almost would have been an easier pill to swallow if that was the primary reason the Badgers remained winless away from home.

Instead, their lack of toughness was challenged by UW coach Greg Gard following a 72-65 loss to Rutgers on Wednesday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

“We’ve just got to be tougher,” junior guard Trevor Anderson said. “I think the stigma coming in was we couldn’t shoot on the road, but we found out tonight that it’s toughness. We’ve got to have that swagger that we do at home and we’ve got to bring it on the road with us.

“Shots went in tonight and what else do you have to point your finger at, other than toughness. That’s from everybody.”

Geo Baker scored 16 of his game-high 22 points after halftime, including 11 over the final 7 minutes, 4 seconds, to help the Scarlet Knights (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) extend the Badgers’ misery at the RAC. UW is 0-3 in the building since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014.

The Badgers (5-5, 1-1) have been the definition of mediocrity over the first 10 games of the season, tantalizingly good at home and the exact opposite once they depart Madison. UW is now 0-5 away from the Kohl Center, and the scary part is its most difficult road games are on the horizon.

UW’s next five road games include trips to Tennessee, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Purdue. Three of those opponents are ranked; another, Penn State, just knocked off a top-5 team at home; and the other venue, Purdue’s Mackey Arena, is a place in which UW has won three times in its previous 40 trips.

“You can’t really feel sorry for yourself at this point of the season,” Anderson said. “We can’t look in the rear-view mirror, we’ve got to look in the front and just keep changing the things that need to be changed and we’ll get there.”

Adding Micah Potter to the lineup can’t hurt. The junior forward was forced to sit out the first 10 games of the season as part of his transfer from Ohio State, and he’ll be eligible when the Badgers return to action on Dec. 21 against UW-Milwaukee.

But Potter shouldn’t be viewed as any sort of savior for a program that, almost one-third of the way into the regular season, still hasn’t found an identity.

“I wanted us to be more physical throughout the first 10 games and tonight it was exposed more,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “I’m just disappointed from that standpoint of how we responded to that part of it.”

Rutgers converted 14 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points, outscoring UW by 18 in that category. Overall, the Scarlet Knights outrebounded the Badgers by a 40-26 margin.

While Baker made some tough shots and constantly put pressure on UW’s defense with his ability to get in the paint, the most impactful player for Rutgers might have been center Myles Johnson.

The 6-foot-11 sophomore had 12 points and seven rebounds, and that damage would have been greater had he not spent the first half in foul trouble. The Scarlet Knights were plus-16 in Johnson’s 18 minutes on the court.

In other words, Johnson was the poster boy for Rutgers winning the toughness category for UW.

“They were more physical than we were,” Gard said. “We didn’t respond to it well and missed some blockouts, but there were other times when they just flat-out took it from us.”

Mental toughness is another key ingredient to winning on the road, and UW is lacking in that area as well. How else do you explain the Badgers finishing with 14 turnovers, including four in the first five possessions and 10 in the first 27 possessions?

D’Mitrik Trice and Anderson, the team’s primary point guards, each had three turnovers.

“It’s a spiraling effect,” Anderson said. “When one thing goes wrong, that’s where that mental toughness comes in.”

Kobe King scored 18 points to lead the Badgers, and Anderson added 11 off the bench. Anderson’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded gave UW a 33-32 halftime lead, an improbable advantage considering how sloppy and undisciplined it looked for a significant portion of the opening 20 minutes.

But the Badgers led for only 71 seconds in the game. Baker scored five points during an 11-2 run that helped Rutgers grab the lead for good early in the second half, and Gard never seemed to find the right lineup to fix the rebounding issue.

Freshman forward Tyler Wahl, who provided a spark in the first half, only played 2:44 after halftime. At one point, Ron Harper Jr. ripped a rebound out of Wahl’s hands, scored on a putback while being fouled and completed the three-point play.

But that wasn’t the only example of Rutgers showing more fight than the Badgers. Junior forward Aleem Ford had only one rebound in 21 minutes, King had only three in 33 minutes and 6-11 junior forward Nate Reuvers finished with five in 28 minutes. Rather than point the fingers at the three biggest players in UW’s starting lineup, Anderson said the guards needed to do a better job of crashing the glass.

“I searched a lot trying to find combinations,” Gard said, “first to take care of the ball and then to try to keep them off the glass.”

Even with all the difficulty it had with turnovers and keeping Rutgers off the glass, UW still was in the game down the stretch. Reuvers saved a terrible possession by banking in a deep 3-pointer to cut Rutgers’ lead to 63-60 with 2:04 left, giving the Badgers some hope.

But — right on cue — Johnson grabbed a miss by Baker and was fouled. A 40-percent shooter from the free throw line, he made both attempts to start a 7-1 run that also included a three-point play from Caleb McConnell.

Game over.

“We’ve got just to kind of find a way to get those 50/50 balls,” King said. “Maybe you’ve got to be 60 percent — 60/40 — in the toughness (department), where we’ve got to get that extra 10 percent. We’ve just got to find a way to get it done, especially on the road.”

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