SAN JOSE- The blueprint for the 2018-2019 Wisconsin Badgers included two major aspects: play through their All-American on offense, and play stifling defense on the other end of the floor. On Friday, the Badgers couldn’t do either one, as fifth-seeded Wisconsin fell to 12th-seeded Oregon, 72-54, in the Round of 64.
Needless to say, after All-American Ethan Happ came back for his redshirt senior season and the Badgers got healthy, a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament was not the ideal ending to a season that had much more potential, as Brad Davison mentioned after the game.
“We don’t get to play again with Ethan and these seniors, and you feel like you let them down in a lot of ways,” Davison said. “They don’t deserve to go out in the first round.”
Offensively, Happ had a modest day for himself with 12 points and eight rebounds, but the offense shot just 33% for the game as a team, and 20% from long range.
On the defensive end, Wisconsin allowed 55% shooting, and a scorching 70% from the field for the Ducks in the second half.
“It was just an off day (shooting), and that’ll happen. And then we had probably our worst seven minutes of defense, all year,” sophomore Nate Reuvers said.
“We didn’t shoot well, but to give up that many points in the second half is not okay.”
The first half of Wisconsin-Oregon was just about what everyone thought it would be. There were missed shots, tough defense and not a lot of points, and the two teams were tied at 25 at the half.
Nate Reuvers got things going early for Wisconsin with a corner three, and D’Mitrik Trice added a nice jumpshot of his own to put Wisconsin up early.
On the other side, Payton Pritchard got things going for Oregon with seven of the team’s first nine points. Throughout the first half, Pritchard controlled the tempo and pushed the ball inside, but shot just 5/13 from the field.
Happ had a couple pretty post moves, and the Badgers ended the half on a high note, as Trice found a cutting Khalil Iverson for a slam just a few seconds before the buzzer.
However, Wisconsin missed a lot of open looks, which would come back to haunt them in the second half.
Iverson kicked off the final 20 minutes with his first three-pointer in over two years, and the Ducks answered right back.
If the first half felt like just any other game, then the second half certainly had the postseason feel to it. The tempo increased, the fans got into it, and there were dunks everywhere, highlighted by Happ and Oregon’s Kenny Wooten, who was a force on both ends throughout the game.
Wooten had two alley-oop slams in a span of four minutes, and Wisconsin couldn’t keep up with Oregon’s hot shooting and efficiency, leading to a 46-37 deficit for the Badgers with just under 12 minutes to play in regulation.
Wisconsin made it a five point game with 6:38 to play, and then the Ducks unleashed an 18-2 run in the following five minutes. The Badgers couldn’t buy a bucket, but also played some of their worst defense they had shown all year, which was too much to overcome for this Wisconsin team.
“I think that both of those things are disappointing, because we know how great of shooters we can be. So to see them not fall is just disappointing to see,” Davison explained.
“And defensively, that’s something that always keeps us in it. There were some times that we would hit some shots in a row, but then we would trade baskets. And at this time of year, you can’t do that.”
Sophomore Aleem Ford was asked about what led Oregon to the victory, and also mentioned the lack of shot-making from Wisconsin.
“Timely runs. I feel like we played pretty good defense early, to just give up 25 points in the first half, but our shots weren’t falling in the end,” Ford said.
Other than the obvious ending to the Badgers’ current season, the loss to Oregon also officially ends the legendary career of Ethan Happ at Wisconsin.
Happ was clearly emotional after the game, and talked about a message that he shared with his teammates after the loss.
“I’m not trying to be sappy about it, but I just wanted to be a man about it, and thank them for everything,” Happ said. “Through all the ups and downs, they have always had my back. It’s going to be hard to move on from this immediate family when we see each other every day.”
Happ, a redshirt senior that dipped his toes into the NBA waters last season before returning for his final year of college eligibility, is one of the greatest players to ever put on a Wisconsin uniform. Happ scored over 2,000 points and grabbed over 1,000 rebounds as a Badger, and evolved into a major vocal leader his last two seasons in Madison.
Being the last player from the 2014-2015 Final Four team to missing the tournament last year, Happ has seen it all, and took a little time to reflect on his illustrious career after the game, amidst the obvious disappointment.
“It’s tough to believe this is really it. You know, people say if you have a near-death experience, your whole life flashes before your eyes,” Happ said. “And once I knew that I was stepping out for the last time, that’s kind of what happened. I started thinking about coming here my first Summer, when my dad dropped me off. And it kind of just went all the way up to that very moment. It was tough, yeah, but I was definitely kind of numb to it all then.”
Happ will miss being a part of the Wisconsin basketball team, and the Badgers will obviously miss him as an all-time great player, as well as the leadership that he and his fellow seniors Khalil Iverson and Charles Thomas IV have shown the last four to five years together.
Davison, as he generally tends to be, was very open about his feelings after the game, and losing these seniors.
“You have one year with everybody in this locker room, and that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” Davison said. “After all the time and work they have put in together and individually, that’s what makes it sting the most, knowing that we’re not going to get to share a locker room with them again, and that we didn’t take advantage of opportunities that would have helped them stay around longer.”
Overall, Wisconsin achieved some levels of success this season, finishing in the top four in the deepest conference in the country and returning to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.
But the Badgers talked about everyone getting a clean slate in March, and on Friday, their previous achievements from the year couldn’t help them, and neither could their usual backbone of a defense.
With the season over and the senior trio departing, the slate will be wiped clean yet again.