PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – For the first time this young season, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team struggled to get in much of a rhythm offensively.
Greg Gard had told his players there’d be days like this. But he was just as curious as anybody to see if the Badgers could overcome one of those games where scoring doesn’t come so easy.
Ethan Happ, Nate Reuvers and Co. offered an emphatic answer to that question during a 62-46 win over Stanford in a Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinal at Imperial Arena.
Happ finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds while holding the Cardinal’s best player in check, Reuvers matched a single-game program record with nine blocked shots and No. 25 UW (4-0) used a late-game burst to book a date with Oklahoma (4-0) in a semifinal at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“That’s something that we’ve been stressing (since) way back in the summer,” Happ said. “We need to have an identity to be a great defensive team. Coach says that all the time to us. Some nights it’s not going to fall and we have to hang our hat on our defense, and it’s promising that we were able to do that today.”
The Badgers, who also got 16 points from sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice and 14 from sophomore guard Brad Davison, outscored the Cardinal 18-4 over the final 6 minutes, 2 seconds of the game. UW won despite shooting 42.6 percent from the field and not making a 3-pointer until the final minute of the game.
Why? Because the Cardinal (2-2) had an even worse shooting performance.
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…
Stanford shot 27.1 percent from the field, the lowest mark by one of UW’s major conference opponents since the Badgers held Virginia to 23.4-percent shooting on Dec. 4, 2013. The Cardinal shot 11.1 percent from beyond the arc, missing 16 of their 18 attempts, and finished with a measly 0.67 points per possession.
“Hopefully, that’s a sign of more things to come as they grow and develop an identity on the defensive end,” Gard said. “We’ve always talked about what we have to continue to rely upon when the ball doesn’t go in at the rate that we’d like to have it go in.”
There were plenty of individual defensive performances worthy of mention.
Trice drew three charges and senior forward Khalil Iverson matched a career high with 12 rebounds.
Reuvers, meanwhile, was an eraser around the rim. The sophomore forward swatted away four shots in the first half and five more after halftime to match the program record set by Brad Sellers against Toledo on Nov. 29, 1982. The Badgers outscored the Cardinal by 24 points in the 26 minutes Reuvers was on the court.
“Before the game, Coach was talking about if a guy has a mistake on defense we’ve got to cover for each other,” said Reuvers, who added eight points and five rebounds. “So when they were driving down the lane I was just coming over and helping my guy out.”
Happ now has a triple-double and three double-doubles in the first four games of his final season at UW, but the senior center’s work on the defensive end was what mattered most against Stanford.
The Cardinal went with a smaller starting lineup than usual, which led Gard to put Happ on sophomore standout KZ Okpala. Stanford had to believe the 6-foot-9 forward would be able to use his quickness to get to the rim against Happ, but the UW star didn’t give Okpala anything easy.
Okpala missed 10 of his 12 attempts from the field and finished with 11 points, less than half of the 22.7 he was averaging coming into the game. Happ eventually fouled out late in the game, but UW had things under control by that point.
“Coach has great belief in my feet and being able to move,” Happ said. “So he was comfortable with me on him and I wanted to prove that he’s right, that I do have good feet and I’m able to stay in front of those quicker guys.”
Toss in freshman guard Cormac Ryan (1 of 9) and sophomore guard Daejon Davis (3 of 13), and Stanford’s top three scorers were a combined 6 of 34 from the field.
The Cardinal managed only 26 points in the paint – 14 fewer than UW – and had a total of 11 shots blocked by Reuvers and Happ.
“They do a nice job of packing it in,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said. “They did a nice job of being physical on our drives. When we did get to the paint, I would say there were a variety of times we shot challenged shots when we maybe didn’t have to.”
As poorly as it shot, Stanford was within 44-42 after Okpala made a 3-pointer to complete a 10-2 run with 6:51 remaining in the game.
The Cardinal had a chance to tie the game on their next possession, but freshman wing Bryce Wills missed a pair of free throws. Stanford was 7 of 14 from the line in the second half.
A three-point play by Davison started a 9-0 run that gave the Badgers a 53-42 lead with 4:11 left. That was more than enough cushion for UW, which held Stanford without a field goal over its final 11 possessions of the game.
“I think last year there would have been some guys, and collectively as a group, where we might not have handled it as well as we did this year,” Happ said of the way responded in the second half after nearly wasting a double-digit lead. “That’s just another year of experience and belief that we can get stops and work on getting buckets eventually.”
NO. 4 VIRGINIA 74, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 52
De’Andre Hunter was everywhere for fourth-ranked Virginia, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine assists.
“I thought De’Andre’s completeness showed offensively and defensively,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
The 6-7 sophomore’s size and athleticism caused problems for the Blue Raiders on the perimeter.
“We really spaced the floor (against) the 1-3-1 press,” Hunter said. “And I was just looking for my shot when the guys kicked it to me in the corner.”
Kyle Guy also scored 15 points for the Cavaliers (4-0), who led 9-0 and 30-9. But they needed Guy’s 3-pointer to start a 9-0 run after the Blue Raiders had clawed to within 38-30 early in the second half.
Antonio Green scored 11 points to lead Middle Tennessee (3-2), which shot 39 percent.
The Cavaliers advanced to Thursday’s semifinals to face Dayton, while the Blue Raiders will face Butler in the consolation bracket.
Christian James scored 18 points to help Oklahoma earn a matchup with Wisconsin in the semifinals.
Aaron Calixte hit two clinching free throws with 5.0 seconds left for the Sooners (4-0), who led by 11 in the first half and 63-54 with 3:38 left before holding off the Gators’ late rally. And Oklahoma helped itself by taking a 48-34 rebounding advantage.
Reserve Dontay Bassett had 14 points for the Gators (2-2), who hit a season-high 11 3-pointers. But Gators had to work awfully hard to find any offensive flow and made 3 of 11 free throws.
“I don’t think we’re a team with a bunch of swagger right now,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I think confidence is a big issue with this team right now. It’s something that we’ve got to get to the bottom of.”
Florida will face Stanford in Thursday’s consolation bracket.
Jalen Crutcher scored 20 points and Josh Cunningham added 18 to help the Flyers advance to face Virginia in Thursday’s semifinals. Dayton (4-0) never trailed and shot 54 percent against the Bulldogs (3-1).
Paul Jorgensen and Sean McDermott each scored 18 points to lead Butler, but high-scoring guard Kamar Baldwin finished with 11 on 5-for-17 shooting after coming in averaging 23.3 points.
Butler will face Middle Tennessee in Thursday’s consolation bracket.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.