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How Johnny Davis and Tyler Wahl stepped up to lead Wisconsin to its first Maui Invitational title
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How Johnny Davis and Tyler Wahl stepped up to lead Wisconsin to its first Maui Invitational title

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Wisconsin St Marys Basketball

Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl (5) celebrates after defeating St. Mary's 61-55 after winning an NCAA college basketball game at the Maui Invitational in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Badgers' Johnny Davis was named the Maui Invitational MVP after averaging more than 23 points over three games.

LAS VEGAS — Tyler Wahl and Johnny Davis turned words into actions during the Maui Invitational.

They were hyped heading into the season by the coaching staff as the new leaders of a young and unproven University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.

Over three games on the Michelob Ultra Arena court in Las Vegas, the duo proved just that, guiding the Badgers to their first Maui Invitational title.

Two of the more seasoned members of the roster, Davis and Wahl led Wednesday’s 61-55 championship game victory over Saint Mary's with 20 and 18 points, respectively. The two players combined to score 52.8% — 103 of 195 points — of the team’s points over the whole tournament.

Davis was crowned tournament MVP and named to the all-tournament team, averaging 23.7 points and 6.7 rebounds during the three games of the tournament, but the win couldn’t have happened without Wahl.

Also named to the all-tournament team, Wahl added six points, grabbed two rebounds and had one block in the last 2 minutes, 7 seconds against the Gaels. His turnaround jumper with 51 seconds left gave UW a 54-50 lead, putting it just out of reach for Saint Mary’s.

The junior forward was a key part of how the Badgers limited Gaels leading scorer Dan Fotu to only 11 points.

“[Wahl] does all the little things that help you win,” said Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, who singled out Wahl’s defense as the reason for Fotu’s struggles. “He's strong. He walls up on layups. He's tough. He's not going to give you anything easy. I thought that's where he was effective. He played well.”

Wahl also played a pivotal role in the semifinal matchup against Houston, where he went head-to-head with Houston senior forward Reggie Chaney on both ends. At least six of Wahl's nine points came from attacking on the post and getting to the rim. He was also aggressive in fighting for loose balls and rebounds, finishing with a game-high seven boards.

The Badgers suddenly find themselves 5-1 after a three-game win streak and Maui Invitational title despite a young, inexperienced roster.

UW coach Greg Gard said he didn’t want to call it Wahl’s “coming out party,” but Wahl showed clear improvements in the tournament compared to his first three games in the season. He was the team’s fourth leading scorer with 7.7 points over an average of 24.3 minutes per game before the trip to Vegas. He averaged 11 points over 32.6 minutes per game in the Maui Invitational.

“[Wahl] going from being a sophomore and kind of waiting in the wings … [to] him stepping into a leadership role [this year] at the forefront of being an underclassman has been big for him,” Gard said. “His mental confidence and believing or convincing himself that he's to be in that position.”

Davis was the team’s leading scorer before he missed the game against Providence on Nov. 15, averaging 15 points and 5.3 rebounds coming into the Maui Invitational. He didn’t miss a step after returning from a lower body injury and remained consistent in Vegas while taking another offensive step forward against Texas A&M, No. 12 Houston and Saint Mary’s to improve his season averages to 20.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.

The Badgers' Johnny Davis was named the Maui Invitational MVP after averaging more than 23 points over three games.

Davis wasn’t impressed with his first-half performance against Saint Mary’s. He scored nine points on 3-for-8 shooting. He said the Badgers took a deep breath during halftime and stopped trying to force things.

He more than doubled his output in the second half. His defensive presence was also prevalent in his five defensive rebounds, one steal and the multiple times he forced a charge call on the Gaels.

“He's one of the best defensive guards in college basketball,” Bennett said. “He can really guard. Then they went to him down the stretch and he made some big buckets. I came away from this tournament thinking I don't know if there's a better guy in this tournament than that kid.”

Davis sank a 3 with 5:12 left in the game to hand the Badgers their first lead in the game. He scored two more points and grabbed two rebounds the remainder of the game.

The sophomore guard had a career-high 30 points against Houston to get them into the championship game in the first place. He also added four steals, four rebounds and two blocks against the No. 12 Cougars.

“He got bigger and stronger in the offseason,” Gard said. “He's more explosive. He does a better job making decisions. He's a better finisher than he was a year ago. And he's still scratching the surface. There's a lot of things that he can add to his game and improve his game.”


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