SAN JOSE, Calif. — The curtain call came with 1 minute, 28 seconds remaining Friday afternoon, University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Greg Gard pulling one of the most decorated players in program history.
Ethan Happ received a standing ovation from UW fans as he reluctantly made his way off the court at the SAP Center, eventually settling in a spot behind the team’s bench. At that point, the senior center said later, moments of his stellar career played out in his head as he watched the final 88 seconds with a towel draped over his head.
After his 139th game with the Badgers ended with a 72-54 loss to Oregon in an NCAA tournament opener, Happ was the last player to leave the court and looked dazed and confused as he slowly walked to the locker room.
“I was kind of numb to it all,” Happ said.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Happ and the Badgers, whose season ended with a flurry of missed shots and, more shockingly, a defensive collapse in the second half.
The Ducks (24-12) got 19 points from Payton Pritchard, 17 from Louis King and 14 from Paul White to book a date with UC Irvine (31-5) on Sunday. It’ll be a matchup of No. 12 and 13 seeds playing for a berth in the Sweet 16.
State Journal reporter Jim Polzin asked Badgers fans on Twitter what they thought of No. 5 seed Wisconsin's 72-54 loss to No. 12 seed Oregon i…
For the Badgers (23-11), they’ll head into an offseason of transition. Gone are Happ and Khalil Iverson, who led UW with 12 points apiece, along with fellow senior Charles Thomas IV.
“What hurts the most is knowing that you’re not going to get to play with the seniors again, and that you let them down in a lot of ways,” sophomore guard Brad Davison said. “They don’t deserve to go home (after) the first round.”
The Badgers shot 33 percent overall and went 6 of 30 from 3-point range. That continued a month-long trend in the wrong direction for UW, which shot 28 percent from beyond the arc over its final 12 games.
“We had some really good looks, but you’ve got to put the ball in the basket,” Gard said. “It’s a simple game when it comes to that, and that alleviates some of the pressure that they’re putting on people in the paint.”
Davison went 0 of 7 from 3-point range and Trice finished 2 of 10. The bench was a combined 0 of 7 from beyond the arc until Walt McGrory made one in the closing seconds.
The fifth-seeded University of Wisconsin men's basketball team fell to the No. 12 seed Oregon Ducks, 72-54, in the NCAA tournament on Friday a…
That ineptitude from the perimeter allowed Oregon’s long bodies to crowd the paint even more. The Ducks doubled Happ whenever he got the ball. When Happ or sophomore Nate Reuvers did get to the rim, there were long arms waiting there to alter shots.
Oregon’s Kenny Wooten finished with four blocks, swatting one of Reuvers’ attempts into press row. Ducks coach Dana Altman said he was most proud that his team held Happ without an assist after he entered the day averaging 4.6 per game.
“They were doing a good job of taking away the first pass out,” said Happ, who had five of UW’s 13 turnovers. “So once I threw it, they were covering that guy and then the guy was passing it off. They did a good job scheming of making us make one more pass.”
Even when UW did that and ended up with a quality shot, the ball rarely went through the net. The Badgers had a 31-28 lead early in the second half after Iverson, in an 0-of-31 drought from 3-point range since his sophomore season, finally made one and Reuvers followed with another two possessions later.
But UW missed 16 of its next 17 attempts from beyond the arc.
“We just weren’t hitting. That’s been a problem in a lot of our losses,” junior guard Brevin Pritzl said. “But when that happens, we have to rely on our defense. The first half, our defense had us where we wanted to be. Unfortunately, it just got away from us.”
Did it ever. Oregon shot 71 percent and averaged a whopping 1.42 points per possession in the second half. Pritchard, White and King did damage from the inside and outside, and Wooten contributed three high-flying dunks that made him look like a man among boys.
The Ducks had 21 points in their first 12 possessions after halftime. UW stopped the bleeding for a bit and stayed within striking distance, but Oregon always seemed to have an answer when the Badgers would score.
After Trice made a 3-pointer with 7:24 left to cut Oregon’s lead to 50-45, Pritchard banked in a shot over Happ while fading away from the basket. When Happ scored to cut UW’s deficit to 52-47, King drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing.
“We got a little out of character on the defensive end,” Happ said. “Our defense has kind of held us together all season long, and then for that stretch there it kind of went away from us. We can’t be trading buckets.”
Eventually, the Badgers completely fell apart and the rout was on. Happ’s first two NCAA tournament defeats were close heartbreakers, but this time he had a little more time to process a different kind of devastation.
After he’d played his 4,115th and final minute with the Badgers, Happ tried to make sense of the finality of it all. He ended his career as the program’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,217) and blocks (154), was second in steals (217) and third in points (2,130) and assists (423).
But it wasn’t the numbers that were running through Happ’s brain, it was the moments.
Afterward, Happ addressed a somber locker room, thanking his teammates and telling them to reach out if they ever needed anything. The post-Happ era officially had begun.
“It’s hard to see him leave, for how much he’s done for this program,” Reuvers said. “It’ll definitely be different without him next year.”