Column: Badgers make best of a bad situation


Column: Badgers make best of a bad situation

Loyalty being what it is these days in college football, you didn't know whether to be happy or sad to see Barry Alvarez back on the Wisconsin sideline seven years after he left coaching to become the Badgers' athletic director.

Wisconsin was one of two schools playing Tuesday - Northern Illinois was the other - whose head coach bailed out on the team between the end of the regular season and a bowl game. That's becoming such a regular occurrence, even when big-time BCS bowls like the Rose and Orange are involved, that it hardly qualifies as news. At least a half-dozen other teams found themselves in the same position during the current bowl season, and five more had to make do without one of their coordinators in the fold, which can be every bit as disruptive.

We even have a repeat offender this time around: Butch Jones, who left Cincinnati on Dec. 7 - a day after promising the athletic director he would return - to take the head-coaching job at Tennessee. He did the same thing to Central Michigan two years ago, and in both cases left the bowl mop-up work to assistant Steve Stripling, who followed Jones to Cincinnati and is already set to join his new staff at Tennessee. Nobody gets mad at shenanigans like that anymore, especially when the coach, like Jones, is an up-and-comer. There's too much money at stake now for either side to take it personally.

Even so, a few things made the Swap-O-Rama at Wisconsin more interesting than most. First off, running a Big 10 program used to be viewed as a destination job, but when Bret Bielema traded the Badgers for the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Southeastern Conference, it reinforced the perception that for any coach with serious championship ambitions, the SEC is the only place to be. Second, even though six of Bielema's assistants have already lined up jobs elsewhere next season, they all decided to work the Rose Bowl alongside Alvarez, which only seemed fair considering how well he treated every one of them in the past. And then there was Alvarez himself.

The Wisconsin seniors essentially ``drafted'' him after Bielema ditched them, and sweet as it was that he agreed to come out of retirement for this one game, his motives weren't entirely charitable. Alvarez makes $1 million a year as AD, and his deal includes a $118,000 bonus for coaching in the Rose and $50,000 more for winning it.

Even though Wisconsin lost 20-14, most still looked at the temporary measure as money well spent.

``I think it served as a unifying factor,'' junior linebacker Chris Borland said. ``Not that this team would ever experience any dissension, we've got a bunch of character guys. But to have Coach Alvarez come back ... I think it calmed guys' nerves. Initially, I think there was a little anxiety about the situation, at least from the younger guys, and to have Coach Alvarez step back and come back and coach, it brought everybody together.''

For his part, Alvarez said the seven years watching games from a booth upstairs hadn't dulled his competitive instincts, even though the loss snapped his personal 3-0 Rose Bowl streak. An interception by Stanford's Usua Amanam as Wisconsin was driving late also ensured the Badgers a third consecutive heartbreaking loss in Pasadena.

``You know what? Every game we had out here was very competitive,'' he said. ``We were fortunate to come out on top in my (previous) games. This game, the only thing that's different than the other teams that I coached is somehow we found a way to win, and we weren't fortunate enough to get a win today.''

Considering the way the regular season went in Madison, though, you could argue Wisconsin was playing the Rose Bowl with house money. The Badgers nearly lost star running back Montee Ball after he was attacked in August and suffered a concussion, only one reason they had trouble scoring points. They lost three games in overtime and two others by a total of three points, then wound up with the conference's Rose Bowl slot because the two teams ahead of them - Ohio State and Penn State - were ineligible for postseason play.

As an added bonus, Gary Andersen, the former Utah State coach Alvarez hired to replace Bielema, had the chance to watch the bowl practices with some of his incoming staff and was on the sideline Tuesday night to observe the players he'll inherit go through the ringer in a big game.

``The advantages are they had a chance to evaluate the players and have an idea in their minds when they get here, what they have and what they have to recruit, the strengths and weaknesses of the team,'' Alvarez said. ``As I told the team, we have a very good nucleus coming back next year, a lot of juniors, and they have a chance to be an outstanding squad again next year.''

By then, Alvarez, who turned 66 a few days ago, will be back in his office and probably glad of it. So credit him with making the best of a bad situation. But if you watched Alvarez come out of the tunnel at the start of the game, taking two quick steps before veering sharply left to get out of the way of his onrushing players, you know he hardly needed reminding that coaching is a young man's game.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

Quick Links

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Important victory: Saturday night's game between the Wizards and Pacers had several layers of playoff implications on the line and it was Washington who rose to the occasion and showed the urgency commensurate for the stakes.

By beating the Pacers, the Wizards locked up the season series between the teams, two games to one. That gives them the tiebreaker for playoff seeding if the teams finish the regular season with the same record. That could very well prove paramount. As of now, the Wizards and Pacers have the same record (40-30) with 12 games to go.

The season series advantage means the Wizards are above the Pacers in the standings despite having the same record. They moved into fourth place in the East with the win and the Cavs slotted back into third. There will likely be a lot more movement as these next few weeks play out, but the Wizards now hold an important edge over the Pacers.

The win also pushed the Wizards to 14-8 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. Wall could return this coming week or the week after and the Wizards have more than stayed afloat during his absence.

The Wizards' magic number to make the playoffs is now just five. 


Sato went off: The Wizards jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter mostly thanks to a hot start from Tomas Satoransky, who scored the Wizards' first five points and had 10 by the end of the first quarter.

Satoransky's floater was automatic. He dropped in several in the lane from all different angles. Satoransky was practicing the same shots, floaters off each foot, the day before in practice and it paid off.

It was a well-rounded night for Satoransky. In addition to his 12 points, he also had eight assists and five rebounds, including this one to find Marcin Gortat for the dunk:

Gortat came up big: Speaking of Gortat, the Wizards' big man had one of his best games of the season. He poured in 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists a steal and a block. Gortat shot 6-for-8, consistently having his way on the block.

The Pacers were without two of their best big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis and Gortat took advantage of that. He was way too much for Al Jefferson.

The Pacers tried to roll with small-ball lineups using Trevor Booker and Thaddeus Young as their big men, but it didn't work. Gortat was too big for them and his teammates did a great job finding him for open looks.

Gortat's 18 points were his most since Jan. 3 when he had a season-high 21 against the Knicks. Lately, Gortat has seen his minutes dwindle with the increased role for Ian Mahinmi, so Saturday night must have felt good for the Polish Machine.


Bojan held in check: Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent part of last season with the Wizards, was a major factor in the first two matchups between Washington and the Pacers this season. He had 20 points in one game and 29 in another, each time getting hot from three.

The Wizards, though, made some adjustments in this one and held Bo Buckets in check. He didn't make his first shot until nearly the midway point of the second quarter and it was only because Kelly Oubre, Jr. (16 points, 18 minutes) lost his balance. Oubre stumbled backward, giving Bogdanovic a split second to get off an open three. That was the only shot he hit in the first half as he began the game 1-for-4.

Oubre did a good job harrassing Bogdanovic and not giving him space on the premiter. Otto Porter (eight points) and Bradley Beal (19 points) did as well. Both Porter and Beal stripped the ball out of Bogdanovic's hands early in the third quarter. Midway through the third, Bogdanovic got past Porter only to be called for an offensive foul on a collision with Gortat. All in all, it was a frustrating night for Bogdanovic, who had 11 points, three below his season average.

Bogdanovic is a very good shooter and when he's hot can alter games. But when you take his shots away, there's not much else he can do to hurt you. The Wizards did a good job taking away his strengths and making others beat them. Not having to focus on Turner and Sabonis certainly helped. 

Sessions is still in the rotation: It turns out those five games for Ramon Sessions over the course of his second 10-day contract weren't just an audition. Now that he has been signed for the rest of the season, Sessions is still getting the nod over Tim Frazier as the backup point guard.

Sessions logged 18 minutes and even played alongside Satoransky and Jodie Meeks in the fourth quarter. The Wizards had a sizable lead and head coach Scott Brooks decided to experiment with his lineups. That is something to keep in mind for when Wall comes back. Once he does, Sessions will be the third point guard and likely rarely see the court. But if they see something they like about him at shooting guard, that could open the door for more playing time possibilities.

Up next: The Wizards have three off-days before their next game. That will be on Wednesday when they head to San Antonio to face the Spurs. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Wizards HangTime.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!