INDIANAPOLIS — One by one, University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach Greg Gard gave his four seniors on the floor the opportunity for a curtain call.
First was Aleem Ford, then Micah Potter. D'Mitrik Trice was the next to go and Brad Davison, after receiving a series of hugs and handshakes while passing by Baylor players and coaches, was the final one to arrive at the UW bench.
The final buzzer sounded and the Badgers made their way to the locker room, left to come to grips with an unfulfilling 2020-21 season that ended Sunday, March 21, with a 76-63 loss in an NCAA tournament second-round game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Trice, the only UW player made available to media following the game, described a somber scene.
"It was definitely emotional," Trice said. "There were a lot of tears being shed, but we know that this group is going to stick together after this."
As friends, yes, but almost certainly not as UW teammates. It's likely most, if not all, of a senior group that also includes Nate Reuvers and Trevor Anderson will move on despite the NCAA giving players a free season of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This felt like the last dance for a veteran group all season long and it ended with a sad — but not unfamiliar — song. The Badgers ended the season with an 18-13 record, with 10 of those defeats coming against teams seeded No. 4 or better in the NCAA field.
Baylor (24-2), the No. 1 seed in the South region, became the latest in that group after getting 17 points from reserve Matthew Mayer and 16 apiece from its dominant guard duo of Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler.
Bottom line: The Bears' athleticism and quickness was too much for the Badgers on both ends of the court.
"They're a really great team and every time we made a mistake they capitalized on it," Trice said. "It's hard, it's a tough way to go out as a senior."
Trice and Davison had combined for 50 points in an 85-62 win over North Carolina on Friday night, but they combined to go 8 of 28 against Baylor.
Mitchell was in Trice's face most of the game and forced him into a 5-of-17 performance.
Davison, coming off a season-high 29 points against the Tar Heels, airballed his first two 3-point attempts and finished 3 of 11 from the field overall.
"They did a great job of pressuring us, getting us out of our comfort zone at times," Trice said.
UW turned the ball over on nine of its first 29 possessions and finished the game with 14, its second-highest total of the season.
Trice (four) and Davison (three) combined for half of those turnovers.
"I thought we did get a little sped up early, tried to play a little too fast at times," Gard said. "Second half was a little bit better, but obviously 14 is double about what we've been averaging. They're athletic, they're strong, they can put a lot of pressure on at every position, specifically when they go smaller. So that obviously definitely played a factor in it."
One bad stretch can knock a team out of the NCAA tournament and UW had a couple of them against the Bears.
Baylor trailed early but used a 16-4 run to take control of the game. The Badgers had more turnovers (three) than baskets (two) during that 10-possession stretch and the Bears' lead grew to 42-29 by halftime.
After trailing by as many as 18 points early in the second half, UW used an 18-7 run to get back in the game.
A three-point play by freshman guard Jonathan Davis cut Baylor's lead to 61-54 with 7 minutes, 25 seconds to play. But the Badgers went the next six possessions without scoring, a stretch that included three misses and a turnover by Trice and one miss each by Davison and Reuvers.
Davis finally ended the drought by hitting a pull-up jumper with 2:28 remaining. By that point, Baylor already had pushed its lead back to double digits.
Trice said the finality of his career ending hit him as he reached the bench and was greeted by coaches and teammates.
"It's just tough," he said. "It's tough to go out like that as a senior.
"Time really flies by. I know I've been here for a while and a lot of guys are probably tired of seeing my face, but it really felt like it was a blur. I was excited to be here. I'm still excited to be part of the Badger family, and I'll always be a Badger."
When Gard was asked about UW's poor record against the best competition this season, his answer went another direction.
It was clear he wanted his senior class, a group that helped the Badgers win a share of the Big Ten title during an adversity-filled 2019-20 season, to be remembered for more than its final chapter.
"I thanked them for all they've done for this program, going beyond basketball and beyond even this year, because that group of seniors obviously have been through a lot and they've had great jubilation and some extreme trials," Gard said. "As I told them, that's life. You're going to have some things go your way, and you're going to have some things not go your way. But as long as you're doing the best you can and giving your best effort, that's all we can ask. And they definitely every day gave us all they could.
"They were able to play in the tournament this year, get one win. We obviously wanted more. But there was never a deficiency of effort and giving of themselves to our program."
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