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Wisconsin plays ‘like a million bucks,’ rolls to 85-48 victory over shorthanded Louisville on Saturday

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

After what could politely be called a bad day in the Kohl Center, Louisville basketball head coach Chris Mack described Wisconsin as having played “like a million bucks.” True enough, and the Cardinals played like small change.

The No. 12 Badgers (6-1) manhandled their shorthanded visitors from beginning to end, showing them no mercy and sending them away with an ugly 85-48 hammering in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge that will go down as one of the most lopsided defeats in program history. 

A quick search revealed the debacle as the third-worst loss ever, trailing only a 99-59 beatdown at Xavier on Feb. 13, 1956, and a 90-57 thumping at Notre Dame on Feb. 12, 2009.

Afterwards, Mack stated what was obvious to anyone who had witnessed the blowout or could assume from the final score.

Louisville’s Quinn Slazinski drives past Wisconsin defender Tyler Wahl (5) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. (UofL photo)

”We were thoroughly outplayed, outmanned, out-toughed, outcoached,” he said. “Wisconsin’s got a veteran group and they looked like it. They played like a million bucks, didn’t miss a shot from the field and we never really offered resistance the entire way. It is what it is. We’ve got to move on, we’ve got a game against Pittsburgh and we have to learn some lessons from this one.”

Louisville (4-1) was missing four players, including grad transfer point guard Carlik Jones, who was withheld from competition due to a positive COVID-19 test. He warmed up with the team, but had not been cleared to play by UofL’s medical advisory group’s guidelines.

Mack said he expects the team’s leading scorer (17.3 ppg) to return for Tuesday’s ACC opener at Pittsburgh. Jones also leads UofL in assists (5.0 apg) and is second in rebounding at 7.0.

The Cards faced another obstacle as well, coming off an 18-day break between games and a pause for coronavirus issues. That left Mack to rely on six players to handle the bulk of the minutes against a deep and veteran Wisconsin club that featured five starters who are at least 22 years old, two of them 24. It didn’t help that the Cards played as if they were still on pause.

”It impacted us greatly,” Mack said of the layoff. “Coming into this game we’d had a partial team for five days of practice and before that we had taken off eight or nine days and it’s very difficult. But that’s the cards we were dealt. We’re not gonna be the only team that comes off a pause and has to turn around and compete.

“But with a young team, guys trying to catch their wind and then playing extended minutes because we don’t have 12 scholarship guys right now, it is what it is and we’re gonna have to learn some valuable lessons despite all the barriers our team is facing.”

Of course, without Jones this isn’t the same team, and when all of the other missing players return — Malik Williams, Josh Nickelberry and Charles Minlend — UofL will be a much improved team later in the season. 

And it might not be much consolation, but a decisive loss like Wisconsin inflicted isn’t any indication of what’s coming down the road.

That 2009 team recovered from the embarrassment at Notre Dame to advance to the NCAA Midwest Regional final as the No. 1 seed and finish with a 31-6 record. The 1956 club won the NIT championship. And some of Louisville’s best teams have lost by more than 30, including the 1948 NAIB champions, and the 1959 and 2012 Final Four teams.

”I think I can speak for most of my teammates, I don’t think any of us have ever lost a game like that,” sophomore forward Sam Williamson said. “You’ve just got to take this one on the chin, get back in practice tomorrow and not let this game define us. We need to learn from this game, stay unified and show up ready to play on Tuesday.”

Wisconsin staggered UofL early with a barrage of 3-pointers, racing to a 25-4 lead, and the Cards never recovered. The Badgers drilled four of their first five treys and finished the first half 10-of-17, equaling their season-high for an entire game. They owned a commanding 44-18 lead, the largest deficit for UofL in program history.

UofL scored just four points in the first 11 minutes, missing 12 shots in a row while Wisconsin went on a 16-0 run. 

The Badgers wound up 16-of-25 from behind the arc (58.8 percent) and 31-of-57 overall (54.4 percent), while UofL was 17-of-47 (36.2 percent), including 5-of-14 (35.7 percent) on 3-pointers.

Ten players scored for Wisconsin and eight hit triples, with three of them making two or more. The winners put on an offensive clinic, with their crisp passing riddling UofL’s defense and resulting in 22 assists. They complemented their long-distance attack by outscoring the visitors 28-18 in the paint.

“When you get 22 assists, you’re not doing that by accident,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “The ball’s moving. We played pretty well inside-out. We were able to touch the post, whether it was driving and kicking, touching the post and playing from within there. For the most part, we took pretty good shots. And when you take good shots, I trust if you give us enough of them, we’re probably going to knock a few down.”

Micah Potter, a 6-foot-10 Ohio State transfer, led Wisconsin with 20 points, including a 4-pointer when he was fouled on a trey, and seven rebounds.

For Louisville, David Johnson recovered somewhat from a 2-of-8 first half to top the Cards with 12 points, but he also had seven of their season-high 18 turnovers. Quinn Slazinski got 11 points and five rebounds, while Williamson contributed seven points and seven boards after missing the last 2 1/2 games with a dislocated toe. He said that going eight days without practicing proved to be a bigger factor than he and his teammates anticipated.

“Going into it we didn’t think it would be as tough as it was, but as you can see by the way we played today it was tough with all that time off,” Williamson said. “But there’s no excuses. It’s a crazy year, a lot of teams are gonna go through that kind of stuff and we’ve just got to come out and play better. It’s as simple as that, we’ve got to play better.”

Mack said the scope of the loss left the Cards plenty to deal with in a short period of time before making the trip to Pittsburgh.

”We’ve got two things we need to worry about,” he said. “One is why things happened the way they did in this game. But at the same time, with the quick turnaround against Pittsburgh, we’ve got to be able to do two things at once, so to speak. At least figure out some glaring areas — and there were a lot of them — that we need to improve no matter who we play, and then we’ve got to get ready for Pittsburgh.”

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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