Courtesy of ASAP Sports, here is the transcript from Wisconsin's postgame press conference. Forwards Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, as well as head coach Greg Gard, spoke following the Badgers' 61-56 loss to Notre Dame in Friday's East Regional semifinal:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard and student-athletes Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. Coach, an opening statement.
GREG GARD: First of all, obviously disappointed with how it finished up from the standpoint of having 17 turnovers, a program that prides themselves in taking care of the ball, to have it play out as it did, and obviously you've got to give credit to Mike's team and Notre Dame of putting us in that position.
And they also made plays down the stretch. At the same time we weren't able to capitalize on possessions when we turn it over three of the last four. And both halves I thought we were too loose with the ball at key times. But also at the same time, as I finished up with the team here just a moment ago in the locker room, extremely proud of what they've done this year and what they've accomplished. And where they were , , you probably would not have predicted us being in this tournament let alone having a chance to be in this position.
But obviously this is going to sting for a long time. I don't know if there's a program in the country that prides itself more on taking care of the ball and valuing every possession more than Wisconsin. I don't know if there's anybody that works on it more than we do. And to have this kind of ending hopefully it'll be -- it will sting for a while but hopefully it will be a great motivation as we continue to grow and move through the offseason.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Nigel, just your emotion, you're up and all of a sudden 19 seconds to go, it kind of swings. Just talk about that emotional swing from being up three to all of a sudden having the season come to an end.
NIGEL HAYES: It's kind of the nature of this whole tournament. You've seen it a lot. They've made a big deal about showing the roller coaster of emotions we can have. We go from Vitto hitting the 3 to thinking we have a chance to have the game. And you blink your eyes and the next thing you know Jackson's shooting two free throws and now we're down five and now we're going home.
But that's what you expect when you -- that's the price you pay when you play competitive sports. My high school coach always told me that: The farther you go, the more important the game, the bigger risk you run, and if you don't come out the winner it gets harder and harder and tougher to deal with. I'm proud of my guys, like Coach Gard said. We're in the position where everyone told us we wouldn't make the tournament let alone be in the Sweet 16. Not to say I'm satisfied, I really do believe we, you know, should have won this game. We have the better team. We didn't play well enough, had too many turnovers, but all in all, I'm proud of the team.
Q. Nigel and Ethan, once the sting of this kind of gets away from you, can you kind of look to next year in the sense that you got a good foundation, given all that you guys went through this past year?
NIGEL HAYES: Yeah, definitely. I mean for us to -- again, we didn't have many seniors. We had one in Jordan Smith, and we have a lot of guys who were older but didn't necessarily have the experience. Now they have that, and fortunately we had a lot of younger guys and Coach Gard got them out there, got them some playing time, got them some experience. So that will be something that we can definitely use for next year, the situation that they've been in, the amount of minutes that they've played and the amount of film we've watched. So everyone should have a better grasp on things, not only mentally, be physically stronger, be smarter, better basketball players.
ETHAN HAPP: We're in good hands with Coach Gard coming back next year. But other than that, you don't look too much ahead.
Q. Nigel, you did hit a couple of shots there in the second half that were pretty big. But were you still not quite where you wanted to be offensively especially in the first half?
NIGEL HAYES: I didn't think I did a good enough job finishing around the rim. I passed up some shots. I found some teammates that were open. I would definitely love them to go in, but I didn't do a good enough job getting to the rim making sure I finished.
THE MODERATOR: Fellas, you're excused. Questions for Coach Gard.
Q. Coach, on the play at the baseline, was there a play that you were trying to run that really wouldn't invite the trap to try to get away from the baseline?
GREG GARD: Well, no. We wanted to get the ball to Nigel, which is what we did. We ran the baseline. He came back to it. Once that happens, then you've got to make good decisions coming out of that situation, if you do get trapped. But I liked, with him being older, bigger, stronger, he can go through traps. He can go over the top of traps. But I wanted the ball in his hands. I'll have to look at the tape to see exactly what happened. I know he tried to split it. And the ball got knocked away and obviously it ended up with the layup for them.
But I thought -- my main concern was getting the ball in bounds. And once we did that, then we have to make good decisions and spread the floor and take care of the ball. And credit Notre Dame for putting a good trap. We won a game against Michigan State earlier in the year when we set a trap and got a turnover, and you hope you're never on the other side of the coin, and that you can make sure you take care of the ball in those key situations. we didn't.
We turned it over like I said there and then Bronson has his turnovers, coming down the floor when we're down three. So situations that you never want to be in but understand that it's going to happen. You've got to do a better job of trying to split that trap or get rid of it before the trap comes. But in terms of what we had talked about in the timeout, they did what we wanted to do and got it where we needed to get it. It's just a matter of getting to what was next.
Q. Coach, how much time do you think you allow yourself to reflect on just the kind of year you've been through with all the emotional swings you've gone through as a team personally and everything else that reflect on just how special this year was for you, with everything that you've been going through?
GREG GARD: It will take a while, because this is going to sting for a while. I'm sure as time goes on you learn to reflect. It's been obviously, as you all know, it's been a very surreal, you know, excruciating year in some regards, exhilarating in others. But I'll definitely look back at this group obviously being my first team to coach and even looking back before mid-December of how they've helped me go through the whole situation I went through with my dad. And they bonded around me and helped me get through that and they're still helping me cope with it.
And it's also my job now as the steward of this program to help them navigate through this, learn from this, and help our one senior move on, Jordan Smith, and help our other guys take this and turn the page eventually. We won't turn the page yet, because this will take a little while for us to digest. But be able to move on to what's next and prepare for the future.
Q. Can you basically say that you know I have a better team now having gone through all this? I know it's getting through 17 turnovers, getting through the loss of this is difficult, but can you say you have a better team now than you had back on ?
GREG GARD: Oh, absolutely. Because we wouldn't have been here if you would have took a poll . We weren't far enough along in the process, we weren't mature enough. We had a lot of shoes to fill from last year. A lot of growing to do, and they've done that. I thought 17 turnovers, we deal with that. But I thought we never quite got to where we needed to get taking care of the ball all year. And part of it is our youth. Part of it is things we've still got to mature through and grow. Part of it is decision-making that we need to become even smarter basketball players, but 17, it's too high for . But I thought our average over the year was too high. That's an area in the offseason we really need to hone in.
Hopefully with experience, albeit sometimes rough experiences like in a season-ending situation like this, that we learn from that and use it to fuel what's down the road.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.