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Why 'relentless' Johnny Davis' Maui Invitational MVP award was no surprise to the Badgers
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Why 'relentless' Johnny Davis' Maui Invitational MVP award was no surprise to the Badgers

From the Fave 5: Abby Schnable shares her favorite stories of 2021 series
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UW coach Greg Gard dances with his players after winning the Maui Invitational against Saint Mary's on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Tournament MVP Johnny Davis holds the trophy.

Johnny Davis didn’t realize he was named MVP of the Maui Invitational until about a minute after it was announced.

The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team had just defeated Saint Mary’s 61-55 to win the three-day tournament title. While the team posed for pictures with a big “2021 Champions” sign, Davis hugged freshman Lorne Bowman and stood there soaking in the moment.

His name was called over the speakers, but he didn’t hear it in the post-win chaos. Brad Davison and multiple coaching staff members had to alert the sophomore guard. Surprise crossed his face as a tournament official placed a lei over his head and handed him the trophy.

The Badgers hoisted the trophy after winning the Maui Invitational. UW beat Saint Mary's 61-55 in Wednesday's championship.

“I think the one thing about Johnny, he’s always said he doesn’t care about the individual things,” UW coach Greg Gard said when asked about Davis being named MVP. “We talked through the offseason this summer, last spring. He said, ‘Coach, all I want to do is win. I don’t care what comes with the individual things. I just want to make us the best team we can be,’ and I think he’s consumed in the right things that way.”

Davis beat his career-high scoring mark in back-to-back games. He had 21 against Texas A&M in the tournament-opening win Monday and 30 against No. 12 Houston in Tuesday’s semifinal. He also led the Badgers with 20 points in the championship game.

Davis also led UW over all three games with 6.6 rebounds per game and scored 37.5% of the points in the tournament.

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

He showed he can be a savvy player, too, creating opportunities for others as well as scoring on his own. In a span of 1 minute, 47 seconds against Houston he scored seven points — a pull-up jumper and two 3-pointers — and blocked two shots from 6-foot-5 guard Taze Moore to put the Badgers up 13-0 before the first media timeout.

Davis said he didn’t think he shot well in the first half against Saint Mary’s, but he responded by scoring 11 points in the second half. His defensive presence also was prevalent with his five defensive rebounds — one that included a mid-air spin move to protect the ball — one steal and the multiple times he forced a charge call on the Gaels.

“I think the thing that separates Johnny is he’s so aggressive, and he’s so confident and he wants to dominate, especially the offensive side of the ball,” Davison said. “He’s relentless, trying to get downhill, trying to get to his spots. You know, when you combine the physical ability with the, you know, the confidence and the desire, and he’s tough to stop.”

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

He was tasked with defending two dominating players in Houston’s Marcus Sasser, who averages 17.3 points per game, and top Saint Mary’s guard Logan Johnson.

Together with the help of the other guards — Gard specifically cited freshmen Chucky Hepburn and Bowman — Davis held the two players to 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Many media members on TV and in the media room were calling it Davis’ “coming out party,” but Davison said he’s always had it inside of him.

“I think this is his first opportunity on the big stage with this group for the world to see how talented he is,” Davison said. “He did a lot of great things, but this is kind of the first opportunity for him. We’ve seen it over the last couple months in practice. This is only game four, five, and six of the year.”

Both Houston coach Kelvin Sampson and Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said Davis was one of the better players they’ve seen this season. Sampson called Davis a “budding star” and Bennett said “he’s one of the best defensive guards in college basketball.”

What Wisconsin men’s basketball did against No. 12 Houston that shows it can hang with high-ranking teams

When told of both of those accolades, Davis brushed them off and credited teammate Tyler Wahl, who was sitting next to him, as one reason he’s improved so much from his freshman year.

Davis played in all 30 games last season with an average of 24.4 minutes per game. He finished the season averaging 7.0 points and 4.1 rebounds.

The Badgers have played six games — Davis missed the Nov. 15 game against Providence with a lower body injury — but he’s the team leader with 20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

Gard said he probably didn’t utilize Davis enough last season, and that he has seen him grow up so much in a short amount of time.

The Badgers suddenly find themselves 7-1 after a five-game win streak and Maui Invitational title despite a young, inexperienced roster.

“I think experience is a great teacher,” Gard said. “There’s a lot of things he can get better at, in addition to getting physically stronger. I think there’s ballhandling, shooting, everything. His concentration level’s better as a sophomore. He doesn’t take, he doesn’t get lost defensively like maybe he did as a freshman, and that’s to be expected with experience.”

Davis said his favorite part of the whole event was watching his teammates thrive. He noted he got to share the court with his twin brother, Jordan, and seeing Wahl get the recognition he deserved — both Johnny Davis and Wahl were named to the All-Tournament team — made the win even better.

He said it’s one of the reasons he’s grateful to be a leader on the team.

“The leadership role isn’t nothing new to me,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to leading these guys the whole way. It just means I need to carry myself as more of a leader on and off the court and just got to know who to talk to and what to say to them.”


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