Upstart Wisconsin gets Saint Mary's in Maui Invitational final

·3 min read

Undefeated Saint Mary's presents the next challenge for surprising Wisconsin on Wednesday in the final of the Maui Invitational at Las Vegas.

Wisconsin (4-1) held off 12th-ranked Houston 65-63 in the semifinals Tuesday after leading by 20 at halftime. The Cougars (4-1) rebounded a missed shot by Wisconsin with 10 seconds left but did not get a shot off on their final possession.

Saint Mary's (6-0) defeated Oregon 62-50 in the semifinals, building on a 23-15 halftime lead with a 10-2 run after the break.

Johnny Davis scored a career-high 30 points for the Badgers against Houston. The sophomore guard did not play in Wisconsin's only loss, a 63-58 defeat at home last week to Providence.

Wisconsin had two distinctly different performances in its first two Maui victories over previously undefeated teams. In the opener against Texas A&M, the Badgers overcame a 16-point first-half deficit to rally for a 69-58 victory.

Against Houston, the Badgers scored the first 13 points and rolled to a 40-20 halftime lead before the Cougars charged back after the break.

"I thought at the start of the second half, our shot selection was not very good and that allowed them to get some momentum," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. "Obviously, they're a really good team, but I think we're starting to turn into one, too."

Davis connected on 10 of 18 shots against Houston, including 4 of 7 from beyond the arc and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. He had 21 points against Texas A&M.

Davis leads the Badgers at 20.3 points per game. Fifth-year senior guard Brad Davison averages 15.2 and 7-foot sophomore center Steven Crowl adds 10.2, although at times he has been foul prone. Davison (5.4) and Davis (5.3) are the leading rebounders.

Wisconsin is averaging 69 points per game, while allowing just 55.2. The Badgers also average just 9.2 turnovers per contest.

Saint Mary's, which edged Notre Dame 62-59 in the tourney opener, improved to 6-0 for the first time since 2016.

The Gaels shot 52 percent against Oregon, connecting on 25 of 48 shots with 16 assists. Saint Mary's had four players in double figures -- Dan Fotu with 16, Tommy Kuhse 13, Alex Ducas 12, and Logan Johnson 11. Kuhse also had seven assists and six rebounds.

"We had the lead going into half and we weren't playing great," said Saint Mary's assistant coach Mickey McConnell. "To hold a team like that to 15 points in the first half, it really set the tone for how we wanted to play. And then obviously second half, our offense came alive a little bit. It was fun to see."

The Gaels held Oregon to just seven field goals in 27 attempts (25.9 percent) in the first half, including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. They also forced seven Oregon turnovers in the first half and 13 overall.

Saint Mary's features a balanced attack. Fotu (15.2 ppg), Kuhse (11.3), Johnson (10.5), and Ducas (10.2) all average in double figures, with Matthias Tass at 9.8.

The Gaels also have been strong defensively, allowing 58.3 points per game, while scoring 70.2.

"We're excited to be here," McConnell said. "It's a great tournament, great team. We're looking forward to it. So, it's now about getting rest and watching some film and having our guys as ready as we can to compete tomorrow."

--Field Level Media