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What We Learned: Wisconsin Badgers 81, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 80

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NCAA Basketball: Western Kentucky at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

In desperate need of a win after suffering two straight defeats, as it has all season, the Wisconsin Badgers’ schedule didn’t provide them with an easy task.

Western Kentucky had done more than enough to establish itself through nine games this season heading into tonight’s matchup. The Hilltoppers had already knocked off Purdue and SMU before heading to the Kohl Center to face Wisconsin.

As anticipated, the game went down to the wire. Though it trailed by four at halftime, A 16-5 run by Wisconsin in the second half gave the Badgers a 65-54 lead with 9:34 remaining.

But, Western Kentucky didn’t allow Wisconsin to put this game on ice early. The Hilltoppers fought until the very end. But, thanks to a key foul drawn by Brad Davison on an inbounding pass with two seconds left in regulation, the Badgers escaped with an 81-80 victory.

Let’s see what we learned from the thriller provided by WKU and Wisconsin.

Aleem Ford Key for Banged up Badgers

Going into the season, Wisconsin already had to deal with its immaturity and lack of experience. To make matters worse, Kobe King will miss the remainder of the season with a left-knee injury. And now, D’mitrik Trice, one of the team’s most experienced players, is out indefinitely because of a right-foot injury.

Aleem Ford has been forced to take a larger role for the Badgers, with the success of Wisconsin partially relying on his production.

In his first game in this new role, Ford came through. The redshirt freshman forward notched a career-high 14 points while also collecting five rebounds on an efficient 4-5 mark shooting from the floor.

Though this was only one game, if Ford can score in double figures while playing nearly 30 minutes on a consistent basis, things bode well for Gard’s squad.

Brad Davison Doesn’t Play like a Freshman

Even though Brad Davison is still learning all of the ins and outs of collegiate-level basketball, the freshman has probably been the most productive player on Wisconsin besides Ethan Happ this season.

Davison’s heads-up play and competitive edge really sets the tone for the Badgers. The perseverance displayed by Davison is also not normal to see from a freshman.

Davison has rarely taken a breather lately, as he has played 38 minutes in Wisconsin’s last two games, but still plays effectively even towards the end of games.

Specifically against Western Kentucky, Davison hit a clutch jumper to give the Badgers a 73-71 lead with only four minutes remaining. The Hilltoppers were smothering Wisconsin defensively at the time. The possession had the looks of a broken one, so Davison was forced to throw up a heavily contested shot. Regardless, he drained it without the blink of an eye.

Davison also essentially won the game for Wisconsin because of a very savvy play when it looked like the game was headed to overtime. Western Kentucky’s Darius Thompson nailed a floater with two seconds left in the game to tie the game at 80.

On the ensuing full-court inbound pass, which would have most likely been a desperation heave across half court, Davison drew a blocking fall away from the ball. This put Davison gave Davison two free throws to potentially win the game. He hit the first and it was over from there.

Though the blocking fall was a bit controversial, the awareness to make this play is outstanding. Especially from a player as inexperienced as Davison.

Wisconsin fans will have the pleasure of watching Davison’s grit and determination for three and a half more seasons, and it will only get better from here.

WKU Win Should be a Valuable Stepping Stone for Wisconsin

A 5-7 record definitely isn’t pretty. And for a team that’s gunning for 20 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, it’s far from ideal.

But, the young Badgers deserve credit for many games they’ve been in until the very end. Besides tonight’s game, Wisconsin has had five other games that could have went either way.

Unfortunately for Wisconsin, besides when it picked up a key win against Penn State, it has lost all four of those other close games.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome for a young team is learning how to perform under pressure and with the game on the line. If this roster was more experienced, like last season’s, it’s almost a guarantee that the Badgers wouldn’t be 2-4 in games requiring crunch-time effectiveness.

The win against Western Kentucky means more than just avoiding another loss that would dig an even deeper hole for the Badgers. This is a significant victory also because it gives Wisconsin even more experience in close games. And this time, they even won.

Wisconsin will continue to be in close games as its Big Ten schedule plays out. So, the most experience it can get in games such as these, the better chance it will have at winning more close games down the stretch.

Overall

The Badgers will have to continue to adjust to the losses of King and Trice. The road to becoming a mature team is also far from completed.

But, tonight was a key victory for Wisconsin. If it wants to keep it’s March Madness streak alive, it will need to continue to win games like this.