PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – It was clear from the first possession of the game Thursday afternoon that Oklahoma’s objective was to not get beat by Ethan Happ.
It was up to D’Mitrik Trice and the other shooters on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team to make the Sooners pay for that strategy.
Trice did his part, making seven 3-pointers en route to a career-high 25 points in the No. 25 Badgers’ 78-58 victory over Oklahoma in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal at Imperial Arena.
The sophomore point guard got plenty of help on the perimeter, too. The Badgers finished 14 of 22 from beyond the arc – a sizzling 63.6 percent – to put themselves in position to win this event for the second time in four years.
Redshirt freshman wing Kobe King and sophomore forward Nate Reuvers each made three 3-pointers for UW (5-0), which will face Tony Bennett's No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers (5-0) in the championship game on Friday at 1 p.m.
King finished with a career-high 14 points off the bench, while Reuvers had 12.
After UW coach Greg Gard arrived at his postgame news conference and began running down a list of items he was pleased with from the win, he couldn’t help but interject some self-deprecating humor. “Making shots,” he said. “Being Captain Obvious there.”
The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team entered the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis as the favorite and lived up to that billing, beating Ala…
Trice made his first seven attempts from 3-point range before finally missing. After missing his final 23 games last season with a foot injury, Trice is 20 of 33 (60.6 percent) through the first five games of the 2018-19 campaign.
This was already the third time he’s had at least 20 points in a game this season.
“I would have never expected that I’d be here this year, like this,” Trice said after falling one 3-pointer shy of matching Bronson Koenig’s single-game record at UW. “I thank my teammates, my coaches, for always believing in me, and just continue to work on my confidence and continue to get this thing rolling.”
Stanford ran the Badgers off the 3-point line on Wednesday, limiting UW to only eight attempts from beyond the arc. The Cardinal decided to take their chances by not providing help for the defender guarding Happ.
Oklahoma (4-1) did the exact opposite. When Happ got the ball on the block, another defender – and sometimes two – drifted over to provide support.
That scheme led to headaches for Happ, who didn’t score until the final minute of the first half and finished 6 of 13 from the field to go along with a game-high four turnovers.
But it led to a lot of open looks for Happ’s teammates on the perimeter.
“That’s what good clubs have is kind of a pick-your-poison a little bit,” said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, whose team got 18 points from senior guard Christian James. “They’ve got great discipline with what they do. Happ obviously can score inside. Very willing passer, very good passer when you do run a second guy.”
King provided a boost in the first half by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers when UW was still trying to feel things out. While senior Khalil Iverson starts at the “3” spot and has done a little bit of everything for the Badgers – he had six points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals against the Sooners – any scoring King can give UW off the bench would be huge.
“He was able to give us a spark today,” Gard said. “And that’s what we continue to need from him.”
UW went 8 of 9 from 3-point range and averaged 1.57 points per possession in the second half to break open a close game.
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Oklahoma was within 33-31 after a 3-pointer from Brady Manek, but Reuvers made a 3-pointer during a 7-0 run that helped the Badgers create a cushion.
After the Sooners cut their deficit to 40-34, Trice made three 3-pointers in a span of seven possessions to push UW’s lead to double digits.
“We obviously wanted to treat him like a very good shooter and it didn’t look like we did at times, in terms of getting to him,” Kruger said of Trice, who set a Battle 4 Atlantis record for most 3-pointers in a game. “He’s a terrific player and had a good game today.”
A day after relying heavily on its defense to beat Stanford, UW shot the lights out against Oklahoma. It was a positive sign early in the season that the Badgers can win in different ways.
“I just keep going back to the experience factor, where last year we might not have done as well against the double team or if a couple of guys missed a shot, we might not have stayed with it,” Happ said. “But it’s another year under everyone’s belts that definitely helps us in those aspects.”
Virginia 66, Dayton 59
De'Andre Hunter is rapidly developing into a game-changing presence in fourth-ranked Virginia's lineup.
The 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore matched his career high with 23 points and hit a critical late 3-pointer to help the Cavaliers hold off Dayton 66-59 in Thursday's Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals. It was his second big outing in two days in the Bahamas, a sign that last season's Atlantic Coast Conference sixth man of the year is poised to thrive in a leading role.
"Every game you sort of start over," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "But as long as he's ready to go and has that mindset of being defensive-minded and then aggressive with soundness offensively, that's all I can ask for from him."
Virginia (5-0) advanced to Friday's championship game to face No. 25 Wisconsin, which beat Oklahoma in a semifinal to start the four-game slate on Thanksgiving Day. Florida beat Stanford and Butler beat Middle Tennessee in the consolation bracket.
Hunter had 15 points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine assists in the first-round win over Middle Tennessee, a sneaky-good performance that even had Bennett surprised by his assist total afterward.
On Thursday, he roamed everywhere and essentially played as the 5-man in a small-ball lineup down the stretch as Virginia sought to counter Dayton's athleticism. He's athletic enough to harass smaller players on the wing but strong enough to wrestle with big men with his 225-pound frame.
"I think it helps a lot offensively and defensively," he said. "I can switch 1 through 4, maybe sometimes guard a 5. And offensively, I can bring the big man out and let our guards drive and attack."
He hit the game's biggest shot, too.
Leading 60-56 with the shot clock dwindling, Hunter took a pass on the right side and pump-faked to get Dayton's Obi Toppin airborne. He calmly took a dribble as Toppin flew by and buried a 3 with 53.1 seconds left, helping the Cavaliers hold on after the Flyers (4-1) shot 55 percent after halftime.
"You get a miss there and who knows - you get a transition opportunity, it's a different ballgame," Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. "That was huge. He's a big player and made a big-time play for his team."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.