Wisconsin 61, St. Mary's 55: Indefatigable Badgers wipe out 10-point deficit to stun Gaels and win Maui Invitational
Memo to any team facing Greg Gard’s Wisconsin team this season.
If you let the Badgers hang around for too long, if you fail to put them away early, you are living dangerously.
A veteran Saint Mary’s team learned that lesson in the title game of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Led by Tyler Wahl and Johnny Davis, UW wiped out a 10-point second half deficit to stun the previously unbeaten Gaels, 61-55.
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 61, St. Mary's 55
"I think we proved that we can hang with anyone," Wahl said when asked about UW's victories over Texas A&M, Houston and Saint Mary's. "To come out here today and be behind the entire game and end up on top, it proves that we’re a legitimate team and not the young kids on the block."
UW trailed, 37-27, with 15 minutes 58 seconds left but outscored the Gaels, 34-18, the rest of the way. Davis had 11 points and Wahl had 10 in that run.
Davis, who scored 30 points in the semifinal victory over No. 11 Houston, led UW with 20 points and seven rebounds Wednesday and was named the tournament MVP.
Wahl added 18 points, 12 in the second half, five rebounds, four blocks and a steal. He hit 6 of 9 field-goal attempts and 6 of 6 free-throw attempts.
His biggest shot was a turnaround jumper to give UW a 57-53 lead with 51 seconds left.
"Absolutely critical," Davis said of Wahl's play. "His defense in the low post was amazing. But that fadeaway with about a minute left? That is what really sealed it for us."
Wahl got the ball on the left wing with 10 seconds left on the shot-clock, calmly backed down forward Dan Fotu and hit the shot with a second left on the shot-clock.
"I think the shot-clock was going down and I’ve been getting good one-on-one matchups," said Wahl, who hit his last four field-goal attempts. "They weren’t doubling so I was just playing basketball. I didn’t really plan ahead that I was going to shoot a fadeaway and it went in."
Five other players scored between four and six points for UW, which shot just 25.0% from three-point range (3 of 12) and 37.5% overall (21 of 56).
Freshman guard Lorne Bowman had five points -- on a three-pointer and a drive. Those baskets came in a span of 1:22 to help UW cut the 37-27 lead to 37-32.
The three-pointer came with 15:30 left, 11 seconds after Bowman came in for Chucky Hepburn (six points, three rebounds).
"That was huge," Davis said of Bowman's two shots. "When you’re on the bench you never know when your number is going to get called. He came in. He was ready and prepared and gave us a big boost to eventually win the game."
The Badgers (5-1) became the first Big Ten team to win the Maui Invitational since Illinois in 2012. UW reached the title game in 2016 but lost to North Carolina.
Saint Mary’s, which returned its top 13 players from last season and is projected to finish third in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga and BYU, suffered its first loss of the season in seven games.
Saint Mary’s shot 52.0% in the first half in building a six-point lead, thanks to 20 points in the paint. UW allowed 14 points in the paint after halftime and the Gaels shot just 32.0% in the half and finished the game with 16 turnovers.
"We were trying to figure it out the entire first half," Wahl said of the team's defense.
UW stayed close in the opening half by hitting 7 of 8 free-throw attempts and turning the ball over just five times. The Badgers finished 16 of 18 from the line and with eight turnovers.
"That is a big key," Gard said. "Those are staples of our program."
Senior guard Brad Davison (four points) had just one offensive rebound but it was huge. With UW trailing, 46-45, Davison missed a three-pointer from the left wing but tracked down the loose ball with 5:04 left and passed out to Davis.
Davis hit a contested three-pointer from the top of the key with 4:51 left to give UW a 48-46 lead and the Badgers never trailed after that.
Gard's message to the team after the victory was blunt.
"This is just the beginning," he said. "We've got to continue to push forward. I think with the collective togetherness of this group, they'll keep pushing each other."