Wisconsin players have moved past the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament and hope to make a run to an NIT title

MADISON – Wisconsin’s players turned disappointment into opportunity, for one night at least.

Now the question is: Can they repeat that accomplishment and make a run in the NIT?

Greg Gard and his players didn’t attempt to mask their disappointment after failing to land a berth in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field.

Yet they insisted they viewed playing in the 32-team NIT as a chance for a bit of redemption.

The Badgers looked like a team that had recovered emotionally from missing the NCAAs when they recorded an 81-62 victory over Bradley in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.

Coach Greg Gard's Badgers play Liberty in the second round of the NIT on Sunday and have their sights set on a championship.
Coach Greg Gard's Badgers play Liberty in the second round of the NIT on Sunday and have their sights set on a championship.

“Obviously disappointed that we didn’t make it,” guard Max Klesmit said after scoring 16 points in the victory over Bradley. “But this is just another opportunity for us to try and win a championship.

“That is how I think all of us are approaching it, day by day, practice by practice, with that mentality.”

Second-seeded UW (18-14) hosts third-seeded Liberty (27-8) at 11 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2. The Flames advanced with a 62-57 victory over Villanova.

The Badgers didn’t pull away from Bradley, the Missouri Valley regular-season champion, until the second half. But beginning with Steven Crowl’s aggressiveness from the opening minute, it was clear UW’s players were prepared mentally.

“You can hang your head for a day or two,” Crowl said after his 36-point performance. “But once practice comes you’ve got to lock back in. Like Kles says, it is another opportunity for us to go out and hopefully get a championship.”

Liberty shared the Atlantic Sun regular-season title with Kennesaw State at 15-3 but the Flames fell to Kennesaw State, 67-66, in the title game of the league tournament.

“As a competitor, you always get up to play games,” said Liberty senior guard Darius McGhee, who scored 26 points in the victory over Villanova and was named an honorable-mention All-American by The Associated Press. “So to have another opportunity to go up against somebody with these guys, you can’t help but be grateful and go out there and give it your all."

McGhee has scored at least 20 points in 23 games this season and in 58 games overall at Liberty. He is averaging 22.6 points per game and shooting 39.9% from three-point range. He makes an average of 4.5 three-pointers per game.

Crowl is coming off his best game at UW. The junior hit 5 of 7 three-pointers, 12 of 16 shots overall and 7 of 7 free throws.

“That is the neat thing about this tournament,” Gard said. “Obviously, we understand what our goals were. But this is another opportunity for us to get experience, play better and get better. That was a good example of that with him. …

“Proud of our guys to be in this position and to approach this the right way and prepare the right way. I think you saw with how they played and came out tonight. That’s a credit to them and how they approached the days leading up to tonight.

“I’m excited to be able to be with them for another 40 minutes.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin plays Liberty on Sunday in NIT, hopes to make run to title