Wisconsin coach Greg Gard might have come up with a new slogan for his team Sunday.
Following a 78-75 overtime win at Iowa, Gard called his Badgers, “Team Drama,” alluding to their seven straight games that have been decided by five points or less.
But while making the result close each time, Wisconsin has done enough to become “team ranked,” jumping to No. 22 in this week’s AP poll heading into a Thursday night game against visiting Lehigh in Madison, Wis.
So far, the Badgers have been what they traditionally are — a team that isn’t flashy but wins with execution, poise in pressure situations, and grit.
“The grit, effort and fortitude of our group that continue to show cannot be questioned,” Gard said. “That’s what it took in the overtime (against Iowa) to seal things out. There are a lot of things to learn from this. There are a lot of things we did not do well, properly or correct. But again, it’s a group that tries to battle, fight and find a way.”
After opening Big Ten play with two wins, Wisconsin heads back into non-league action with an 8-2 overall record, with the setbacks coming by one point to Kansas and by three points to Wake Forest.
Leading the way for the Badgers has been Tyler Wahl, who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.
Sophomore Chucky Hepburn has taken a leap forward this season, averaging 12.4 points, while freshman Connor Essegian is at 10.4 points a game.
The Badgers are averaging 67.3 points while giving up 61.3.
“I’ve got to make sure I keep up to date with my cardiologist, to make sure everything is good,” Gard said. “But they just keep battling. But there are so many things, from a couple of passes we had and we drove where we turned down layups to make a better pass, and simple things.”
Wisconsin hopes to not have a letdown against a Lehigh team that arrives in Madison with a 4-4 overall record.
The Mountain Hawks have lost their past two games, including 88-62 at home to UMBC on Saturday.
Lehigh is led in scoring by Evan Taylor, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Guards Tyler Whitney-Sidney (13.1 ppg) and Keith Higgins Jr. (11.6) are also scoring in double-figures for the Mountain Hawks.
Against UMBC, Lehigh got a surprise contribution from senior guard Jake Betlow, who scored a career-high 15 points in 19 minutes of action on 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.
“Jake gave us some good minutes and knocked down some good shots and was a positive spark for us,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said.
One area Lehigh will have to shore up against Wisconsin is rebounding. The Mountain Hawks were outrebounded by UMBC 42-22, and a similar performance would spell trouble against a taller Wisconsin front line.
–Field Level Media