INDIANAPOLIS — Greg Gard's tenure as Wisconsin's interim head coach didn't start too great, the Badgers opening the Big Ten portion of this season's schedule with a 1-4 record.
Well, you know the story from there. Wisconsin rattled off seven straight wins and earned victories in 11 of its final 13 regular-season games. That was more than enough to earn Gard the permanent head-coaching gig as Bo Ryan's successor.
So after all that impressing during the regular season, why did the Badgers fall flat on their faces in the Big Ten Tournament?
Gard's first game as the permanent head coach was a disaster for Wisconsin, a 70-58 loss to Nebraska on Thursday night that bounced the Badgers out of the conference tournament.
"Saw a lot of uncharacteristic things out there tonight that haven't been present when we have been playing really well," Gard said after Thursday's game. "And so we're not in this position of finishing tied for third (in the conference standings) with having those things be obvious or present. So I thought that we deviated from what has made us good in terms of through the course of the year what made us consistent. At times we did some good things. But every time we got back close again, we would revert back or make a mistake on a screen or knock it back in transition or foul one that wasn't necessary to, not around the rim and put that in the free throw line.
"As I told the group in the locker room, fortunately we'll have one more. If we're like this, it will only be one more."
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The Badgers were horrendous on the offensive end, with only Vitto Brown doing much of anything in the first half. His teammates were 2-for-19 from the field over the opening 20 minutes, accounting for just eight points. After halftime, things didn't improve much, and Wisconsin finished shooting 30.2 percent on the night.
It's now back-to-back losses for the Badgers, something they haven't experienced since the early stages of Big Ten play. Thanks to that sustained period of success, Wisconsin is a lock for the NCAA tournament field of 68, but how losses to Purdue and Nebraska will affect its seed remains to be seen.
"Those things, the committee takes care of that, and they will look at the whole body of work," Gard said. "I'm more concerned about how we're playing versus where we're seeded or who we're playing. Because as I told the team, you got one more. You can put the jersey on one more time. And, obviously, we have to get back to what put us in this position, not the replication of what we put out there tonight for 40 minutes. So I'm more concerned about that than where we're seeded or who we play."
Thursday, Wisconsin looked far more like it did early in the season, when Ryan was still the head coach and Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig — the team's two returning mainstays from the back-to-back Final Four teams — were inconsistent. Thursday, that duo combined to go 5-for-27 from the field. Back at the beginning of the year, when Wisconsin suffered shocking home losses to Western Illinois, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette, Ethan Happ had yet to round into the player who ended up winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Thursday, he was 5-for-11 from the field and turned the ball over five times. Even Brown fell off after halftime, adding just three points to his first-half total.
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So how do the Badgers return from this replication of its early season woes to what made them one of the Big Ten's best?
"I think the main thing is going back and reevaluating and looking at the film, really analyzing what we didn't do right in both of these games," Brown said. "And I think they both really came down to the fact that we allowed them to attack us and we didn't reciprocate that on the other end. So I think the main thing is defense, because every time we did try to claw back (against Nebraska), we just let them expand the lead again. We were never able to close that gap."
Thursday wasn't the end of Wisconsin's season. There will be at least one more game in the NCAA tournament. But as Gard mentioned, if the Badgers play there like they did Thursday night, the exit from that tournament will be just as quick.
Quite the pressure to start the Greg Gard Era.