The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball (2-4) fell in both the first round and consolation game of the 2017 Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.
The losses came Monday in a 70-65 defeat against No. 25 Baylor (5-0) and Tuesday where the Badgers lost 72-70 on a last second score by No. 24 UCLA (4-1).
For much of the game against Baylor, the lead seemed insurmountable, with Wisconsin trailing by as much as 17 halfway through the second period.
But, strong performances by Ethan Happ and freshman Brad Davison gave the Badgers a fighting chance toward the end.
Unfortunately, Happ’s 23-point performance and Davison’s clutch 10 points in the second half were not enough to get the win. Senior guard Manu Lecomte continued his strong campaign notching 24 points on 60 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
The contest against UCLA was much closer throughout, as the score was tied on 15 different occasions over the course of the game.
While the Badgers led by five at the three-minute mark, it was ultimately a game winning layup by Aaron Holiday that clinched the win for the Bruins with 0.8 left on the clock. Holiday was also the leading scorer for UCLA, going 7-12 from the field with five assists.
The loss was unfortunate for Wisconsin, as the Bruins are arguably the weakest they will be all season, missing three key freshman that were suspended following their shoplifting charges in China. LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were all suspended indefinitely after they returned to the states last week.
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Though the Badgers fell short in both contests, there are some positives that Wisconsin and Coach Gard can take away from the games.
First, the emergence of freshman Brian Davison in the last few games has given us a glimpse of what this young team will look like when they reach their potential. Davison’s minutes increased dramatically against Xavier and Baylor, outplaying his counterpart Brevin Pritzl in key moments during the second half.
Davison’s strong 10-point second half against Baylor earned him his first career start against UCLA where he performed well, going 4-11 from the field and 3-8 from 3 for 14 points.
Wisconsin’s grittiness as a young team is also a trait they displayed during their two games in Kansas City. With inexperienced teams, it is often easy to act carelessly with the ball and cause turnovers in key moments.
While there are certainly areas the team can improve in closing out games, Wisconsin generally improved in making these mistakes as time went on and turned the ball over less than both UCLA and Baylor.
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Their week in Kansas City might not have ended as well as Wisconsin hoped for, but the Badgers cannot allow themselves to fall into a downward spiral at this point. Wisconsin needs to work on rebounding after these tough losses if they want to see the rest of their season pan out well.
Wisconsin has one more non-conference game left before they begin their Big Ten schedule. They will take on Virginia before beginning their Big Ten schedule against Ohio State Saturday.