Photo: Wisconsin Badgers
BY MIKE LUCAS
UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
MADISON, Wis. — "We're better than them."
There was Nigel Hayes in the locker room at halftime after Wisconsin had taken a 31-27 lead over Villanova, the NCAA tournament's No. 1 seed and defending national champion. There was Bronson Koenig talking about how the Wildcats were defending him. There was Ethan Happ motioning to a dry erase board and talking to Koenig about how they could better utilize some actions. And there was Hayes writing on the board Take care of ball & rebound and circling it for emphasis.
All of this was happening before UW head coach Greg Gard re-joined his players in the locker room and saw what Hayes had written on the board.
"Coach Gard walked in," Happ related, "and he said, 'You've read my mind.'"
Of Villanova's 27 points, 12 were off turnovers and 10 off second-chance opportunities.
Take care of ball & rebound.
It put a smile on Gard's face.
"You know your message is getting through," Gard said.
You also know the Wisconsin players are doing a better job of communicating what needs to be done and how it needs to be approached and implemented. In addition, they're communicating better with each other, much better than they did at many junctures during the regular season. Communication was at the core of the 2014 and 2015 Final Four teams. Communication and skill.
"For this team to succeed, they need to do that — they need to communicate," said UW associate head coach Lamont Paris. "They need to encourage each other. They need to be critical of each other at times. Communication is a big part of what this team needed, specifically to get some things sorted out and have success.
"And, no, that wasn't the case early in the year. We're not in there right away, so we don't know what they're doing. But we never went into the locker room to give our halftime speech and saw stuff written on the dry erase board (by the players). There has been a progression towards that starting around the end of the season, maybe around the Minnesota game."
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