EUGENE Ore. — University of Wisconsin men's basketball senior forward Tyler Wahl said he doesn’t see what Oregon did to him in Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal often in the Big Ten.
Time after time during the Badgers’ eventual 61-58 win over the Ducks at Matthew Knight Arena, the 6-foot-9 Wahl found himself right underneath the rim with hardly any distance between him and the cylinder. But time after time, he had nowhere to move.
“They're super long,” Wahl said. “They're super athletic.”
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Oregon took full advantage of UW’s lack of experience dealing with that type of player, and for keeping UW’s bigs off the scoreboard, the Ducks’ “jumping around” and “looking for blocks all the time” strategy worked. Wahl scored just five points and forward Steven Crowl — who had been the Badgers’ NIT star so far — had nine points. Wahl and Crowl shot a combined 5 of 19 from the field.
But as has been the case throughout the entirety of UW’s three-game winning streak through the NIT, it adapted. Crowl and Wahl couldn’t score. But they could pass and attack offensive boards. UW’s interior duo’s combined eight offensive rebounds (five for Wahl and three for Crowl) and nine assists (six for Wahl and three from Crowl) were enough to give the Badgers (20-14) a slight bump against the first team that outsized them in the whole tournament.
“Those are hustle plays,” Gard said. “Those are opportunities we talked about all the time: nobody owns the ball once in the air.”
The strategy in the last couple of NIT matchups for UW was fairly straightforward: The Badgers have the tallest player on the floor in 7-footer Steven Crowl, and UW was going to use him. The Badgers pushed inside to Crowl in the post and he carried UW in its win over Bradley, then set the tone against Liberty. But that wasn’t as simple against Oregon. In fact, the Badgers entered Tuesday anticipating the Ducks’ length could cause them problems.
Crowl, a mainstay in the paint the last few contests, floated out to the perimeter early and often. That wasn’t entirely intentional, Gard said, and some of his looks from the perimeter came organically within the offense.
Crowl missed both of his first-half looks from 3-point range and despite the ball swinging toward him outside the 3-point arc a few more times, he never put another shot up. But down low where Oregon’s 2-point field goal percentage defense ranks No. 15 in the country (45.1%) per KenPom, things were perhaps even worse.
“They’re not giving up a lot at the rim,” Gard said.
Even using Crowl as a decoy to create space didn’t work. Early in the first half, Crowl boxed out his defender to seal off a driving lane for Klesmit, but Oregon still blocked Klesmit’s layup by crashing from the weak side. Crowl was in perfect position for an offensive rebound, but couldn’t even turn and look for a teammate to pass to with the pressure the Ducks put on him. So, the shot clock expired and UW left the possession empty.
Wahl struggled even more: pump-faking, flailing, spinning — anything to get a shot up at the basket. First they were blocked, then he got a few shots up, but all of his shots from the interior missed. His one field goal was a 3-pointer, just his 10th make and 34th attempt from beyond the arc on the year. With Crowl standing out there, too, the Badgers were seemingly off what they wanted to do offensively.
“(Length) was really the key to Steven (being) around the perimeter a little bit more than we're used to,” Klesmit said. “It’s a credit to the size they have.”
But Gard said that he still wanted to go to Crowl “when we can.” And, on Wahl constantly getting blocked under the rim, he said “don’t make it a bigger deal than it is.” He told Wahl at halftime about a game when he coached under Bo Ryan at UW-Stevens Point where the team was blocked 19 times (he might have made that number up, he said, but joked the media could find a box score). There are other ways to impact the game.
So, Wahl started passing. Crowl and he both crashed the offensive boards. Despite a continuation of the struggles to hit interior shots, Wahl and Crowl were much more composed from earlier in the game when they each air-mailed passes back outside over a double team, one by Wahl which led to a turnover. UW turned it over just twice in the second half after giving the ball up eight times in the first.
UW gradually chipped away after Oregon went up seven, losing some ground, then gaining it back before UW pulled within four, 55-51, after freshman Connor Essegian's 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the game. On this play, the Badgers didn’t shy away from the interior.
Wahl had the ball in the post and Crowl filled in the weak side. The double came and Wahl bounced it to Crowl, who converted on a layup. It cut the lead to two points and opened up for UW’s late 3-point barrage.
“Once I got my third or fourth (shot) blocked, I said ‘I'm done shooting,’” Wahl said. “‘(I’m) going to pass a little bit.’
And it worked.
Badgers fans proud of Vegas-bound Wisconsin men's basketball's win at Oregon
A tough scene
Nice win on the ugliest basketball court in the history of basketball— Brad Miller (@BradMiller_WX) March 22, 2023
@ChuckyHepburn huge again down the stretch. Team playing with tons of confidence and love the way they are battling back. And now winning the nailbiters. pic.twitter.com/KigQhYpGQt— Manu Raju (@mkraju) March 22, 2023
Badgers keep fightin'
This team has major limitations (which is why they are in the NIT), but grit isn't one of them. They didn't give up when Oregon hit those 3s to push the lead.— Craig Smith (@smithcp1) March 22, 2023
Improve till the final buzzer sounds
Glad they never contemplated not accepting the invite. Extra games in March are always good, especially competitive games against quality teams. Going to make the returning kids better next year (I hope) 🤞🏻— Russ Evansen (@waunaruss) March 22, 2023
Nice call, Greg
Gard's call out of the timeout for Chucky's dunk and the presence of mind to call timeout before he wasted a possession with a minute to go were huge. Set up the skip pass 3. I'm sure the Gard detractors will give him credit so I don't have to.— Taylor Valentine (@TaylorValen9) March 22, 2023
A new nickname
Klesmit is Mr Clutch this tourney. Total gutsy, gritty win. Struggled all game offensively but made the plays at the end when they were needed. Chucky’s big three off the Wahl pass was dynamite!— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) March 22, 2023
Happy for them. I was pretty skeptical that the NIT offered much but there's a pretty good chance this lets the (likely) returning players go into the offseason with momentum and the win and advance experience is a positive heading into next season.— Bison Mark (@MarkSch38519675) March 22, 2023
Gardball strikes again!
Klesmit closes out the game again! Ducks blocked 8 shots and definitely affected many others. Tyler’s pass to Chucky when the Ducks were in the 1-3-1 was well executed and the essence of Gardball and that was the game changer. Whoever designed that floor should be arrested.— David Koller (@DavidBKoller) March 22, 2023
Character in March
Incredible effort by Max on an off night by nearly everyone - a truly awful team shooting night— chuckwestover (@chuckwestover) March 22, 2023
Good to see some decent bench minutes from JD and Gilmore
Loved the effort overall though - this team could have folded, but has shown some real character in this tournament
The editor says ...
The cheese curds are gonna taste good tonight!!!— Rob Hernandez (@RobHernandezGLF) March 22, 2023
But I query you this: Roast Duck … overated or overrated? 😜😂🏀🦆 pic.twitter.com/TTjedDGI6q
A fact is a fact
Cheese Curds ARE NOT overrated!— Randall Kohl (@crandallkohl) March 22, 2023
A good laugh for all
My favorite line tonight during the game. Schriffen asks Hummel when will Wisconsin start speeding up the pace of play. Hummel laughs and says, they won’t. 😂— CJ Ehle (@CJ_Ehle) March 22, 2023
Excellent meme choice
Best game of the year? 🔥🏀 pic.twitter.com/1Tji97zLG4— StreamingTVRadar 🖥 | 5 Star Marketing Advisors (@badgerhugh) March 22, 2023
Fun with numbers
Never in doubt! pic.twitter.com/vkr36H9Bh8— Andrew Miller (@heyapm) March 22, 2023
A white-knuckle finish
March 22, 2023
Free throws are FREE!
Free throw shooting! Badgers were 67% in the regular season and now shooting 81% in the NIT.— Jordan Love Bookmarks (@BookmarkerLove) March 22, 2023
Name of the game
Of course, I wish the boys had gotten an NCAA bid, but I have to admit, this NIT run has been really fun. Happy for these kids getting a cool end of season experience in Vegas. Tough season, and they deserve it. Grinders. Good momentum to next season.— Damon Heim (@DamonHeim) March 22, 2023
Crazy game. Brutal shooting except for Klesmit. Wahl got 5 or 6 shots in a row blocked. Most inbound passes I've seen in the last 10s of a game, I think it was 7. We'll take the win! #Badgers— PackFanatic (@PackFanatic1) March 22, 2023
Why not both?
Some folks say you win or you learn. The badgers won but there’s still a lot to learn from this game. Plenty of work to do but bottom line, they have more time to work because they got the win.— Tyler Thrune (@tylerthrune) March 22, 2023
That's why they play
Extending the season always a plus. They're clearly playing better and it's only a positive heading into next season.— Leonard Go (@LeonardGo) March 22, 2023
Mad max with the ball
Feature Klesmit more because he attacks, and convince Gilmore to go to the basket when he is two feet away and at least draw a foul. Love the fight and determination.— Tom Leix (@TomLeix) March 22, 2023
Full 40s only
This game was a typical 40 minutes for this crew. Glad they won ANOTHER close one.— Fickle Fickell (@FickellFickle) March 22, 2023
One word: athletes
It’s hard to understand why it was so close given that Oregon’s three leading scorers were out with injuries. We couldn’t win a game with one starter hurt (Wahl). Kudos to Oregon for making it this far without those players. Glad the Badgers got it done.— Nicholas Gansner (@ngansner) March 22, 2023
Should've read the preview
Knowing nothing about Oregon, I thought they would get run off the court. To be down 8 and come back to win on their court is outstanding! Plenty of bad shooting all around, but win and move on!— Doug Clemann (@DougClemann) March 22, 2023
A nitty gritty victory
Lots of detractors but these guys make plays w/few ⭐️s. Klesmit is clutch, after a bad game Essegian wants the ball, in key moments Chucky makes tough buckets & above all the D comes through when needed. Wasn't easy but Bucky is gritty & I like these guys coming back..— Madtown Shane (@MadtownShane) March 22, 2023
Thinking that going deep into the NIT, still playing, is probably better than going to the NCAA and not playing for long.— Michael Olneck (@OlneckMolneck) March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023
Offensive rebounding and 2 turnovers in the last 30 minutes of playing time were helpful.— Tejón Más 🦡 (@JoRy_MaMa) March 22, 2023
We'll see you there, Scary
An excuse for me to get to Vegas pic.twitter.com/EIeZy2k8Cx— Scary Alvarez (@barryisthedon) March 22, 2023
We'll have you covered
It's too bad flights are over $1,000 next week or you'd find me in Vegas— Chris Cesar (@Cesar_Chris) March 22, 2023