The Badgers aren’t done just yet
MADISON, Wis. — “Congrats to Wisconsin, they’re a very good team.”
That’s how Northwestern head coach Chris Collins opened his postgame comments at the podium after Wisconsin pounded the Wildcats 63-48 on Wednesday night.
He’s not wrong.
With a win over Indiana on Saturday, Wisconsin will win at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown. If Michigan State (vs. Ohio State), Maryland (vs. Michigan) or Illinois (at Ohio State, vs. Iowa) falters this weekend, the Badgers could potentially win the title outright — and clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
When Wisconsin was 5-5 after a loss to Rutgers in mid-December, the bigger questions surrounding the program involved the long-term future and whether Greg Gard was the right man for the job, not if the Badgers would be in line for the No. 1 or No. 4 seed entering the conference tournament in Indianapolis.
But things change.
It took a while for them to change though.
Mostly, it took consistent play from the Badgers as a whole, something that the players will say suddenly just happened before their eyes — and then took action in the Big Ten standings.
Head coach Greg Gard said he didn’t think about the conference title until Rutgers upset No. 9 Maryland on Tuesday, opening the door for Wisconsin to steal the show.
The players will say they didn’t even realize they were right there at the top of the league.
“After we started win games,” said guard D’Mitrik Trice. “When we were 6-6, I don’t know if we had this in mind where other teams were in the standings. We just stuck together and we started to take off. The biggest thing is we stuck together.”
You can look at it from a different angle, too.
Gard said after Wednesday’s win that the team was asked to write goals down on a worksheet back in September.
The fifth-year coach said each play had one goal in mind: a conference title.
“It’d be special because it’d be great for all those guys who put time in and put us in this position,” Gard said.
The best way to look at this team not being done, though?
How the group has responded after the devastating car crash involving assistance coach Howard Moore, one that killed his wife and daughter and has left him in treatment since last May.
With assistant coach Alando Tucker, the team has rallied together, and continued to find ways to win for Moore.
“It’s a blessing for so many reasons,” said guard Brad Davison on the chance to win a title. “Going back to the summer, and now we have an opportunity play for a Big Ten title. That’s why you come to Wisconsin. It’s something we’re really looking forward to, and something we don’t take for granted. That’s something we’ve learned: you don’t take anything for granted.”
So, here we are.
The last five days of the regular season. And in a year where it seemed like the Badgers weren’t the team, they may be the team.
“For a group that only has one senior in the rotation, they’re a very mature group,” Gard said. “Some of those guys have redshirted, they’re wise and mature beyond their years. This group has stayed hungry and the coaching staff has done a good job making sure that remains the mindset.
“When we talk to recruits, that’s something we talk about, pursuing championships. You always want to be the last one standing in your conference.”
One more win, and that’s the case.
The battle isn’t done yet.
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