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Greg Gard says he wasn't comfortable having Badgers men's basketball team play at Penn State
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Greg Gard says he wasn't comfortable having Badgers men's basketball team play at Penn State


Before the 2020-21 season began, Greg Gard said multiple times he’d err on the side of caution when it came time to give his opinion on whether particular games should be played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach lived up to that position last Saturday when it became clear the game at Penn State was in jeopardy due to positive tests within the Nittany Lions program.

“I really looked at it from a standpoint of being a parent myself, that if we walked into a known risky situation and we had something go wrong and we got the virus transmitted somehow — hopefully not, but if that happened — I couldn’t honestly look at my players and their parents and say I’m confident in the environment we’re walking into,” Gard said Tuesday during a Zoom news conference. “I just couldn’t come to that (conclusion) and no one around me could come to that conclusion, either. I got no rebuttal from anywhere that we should go forward and play.”

UW and Penn State sent out separate statements Saturday evening saying the decision to postpone the game was “mutually agreed upon” and was made due to “health and safety” concerns. However, neither mentioned any positive tests — or even COVID-19 — as the reason for calling off the game.

Similar generic statements were sent out Monday when it was announced a game between host Purdue and Nebraska, scheduled for Tuesday, was being postponed.

Gard, on the other end, was much more forthcoming Tuesday when asked about the process that led up to the postponement.

He said Penn State reached out Saturday morning with news that a player had tested positive on Friday and another had tested positive on Saturday. Discussions involving the Big Ten and medical personnel from UW and Penn State took place over the next 4 to 6 hours, according to Gard.

“In talking with our medical people and our administration as we played through the day, I felt very uncomfortable with the timing, the fact that there was multiple positive tests within a short time span, the fact that it was all student-athletes, the fact that we knew that they had been off on break the previous week around Christmas,” Gard said. “Just the information we had, I just didn’t feel comfortable. In talking to our team doctors and also talking with their team doctors, our doctors talked with their doctors, the recommendation was that we didn’t play and that we postponed it.”

Penn State postponed a second game, this one scheduled for Wednesday at Ohio State, and this time cited positive COVID-19 tests.

For UW, it was the third time this season COVID-19 issues for an opponent have led to a game being postponed. The other two occurred during non-conference play, when Northern Iowa had to back out of a game at the Kohl Center and Louisville had to reschedule a game after the Cardinals went on pause.

When asked how his program has been able to avoid any outbreaks, Gard joked he didn’t want to be jinxed. He credited his veteran team — the core of the rotation includes six seniors — with making good decisions.

“I think our guys have taken responsibility, for the most part,” said Gard, who has stressed to players and other members of the program the importance of avoiding large groups, washing their hands often and wearing masks around friends and family members who are visiting. “We can control their athletic bubble. We can’t control their social bubble, but I think our guys have been responsible.

“But we’re only as good as the day we’re in. It can all change and I’ve said all along this thing, you can’t outrun it. It’s hard, you’re not going to trick it. It’s kind of like oxygen, it’s everywhere and you just have to be really careful to try to be conscious of where you’re at and who you’re around and those things. So far, so good.”

The NCAA announced earlier this week it would hold the entire NCAA tournament in the state of Indiana, a move Gard said he supports. He said he “can’t think of a better place to put it than” the Indianapolis area.

“I think it looks from the outside like a pretty decent idea,” Gard said. “I think that keeping everybody close and minimizing teams that do have to fly there, it’s one flight and you’re not bouncing around (from city to city). It’s, hopefully, a once in a lifetime thing. You can’t call somebody and say, ‘Hey when you had everybody in one site, how did you do it?’ Everyone’s navigating uncharted waters in this thing.”

The No. 8 Badgers (9-2, 3-1 Big Ten) return to action Thursday with a game against visiting Indiana (7-4, 2-2).

As for when UW’s game at Penn State might be rescheduled, Gard said he’s hopeful it will be sooner than later. The Big Ten created windows for potential rescheduled games when it put together this season’s schedule, and Feb. 24 is a date that would work for both the Badgers and Nittany Lions.

But Gard indicated he thought the game could be rescheduled earlier than that. UW has a window of eight days between games later this month, though it doesn’t appear that would work on Penn State’s end unless the Big Ten shuffles around other matchups.

“We’d prefer not to push it to the second (window) just because we want to keep the second one open in case something (happens),” Gard said.

No timetable for Carlson’s return

Gard didn’t offer much information when asked if he expects Ben Carlson to return to the court this season or if there’s any sort of timetable for the injured freshman forward.

Carlson hasn’t appeared in UW’s past five games with what the program is calling an “upper-body” issue. The highly regarded 2020 recruit from Minnesota played the final 61 seconds during a 77-63 win over Loyola Chicago on Dec. 15 but was in street clothes four days later when the Badgers hosted Louisville.

“He’s working with our medical staff right now on some rehab and working his way back to trying to get back on the floor,” Gard said of Carlson, who scored 13 points in his debut against Eastern Illinois on Nov. 25 but saw his playing time decrease over the next five games. “But he hasn’t practiced probably since you’ve seen him not in game uniform. I just check in with him and check in our medical people every day and they give me an update.”

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