Big Ten

Badgers need to get things fixed, or NCAA tournament exit will be quick, too

greg-gard-0311.png

Badgers need to get things fixed, or NCAA tournament exit will be quick, too

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."

[MORE BIG TEN: Greg Gard Era opens with a thud as Huskers bounce Badgers]

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.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Badgers gear right here]

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.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

jeremy_larkin.jpg
USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

anderson.jpg
USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.