Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore hoping to help the Badgers to a third straight Elite Eight and more

After starting the year as an unemployed coach and then a television analyst, assistant coach Howard Moore is enjoying Wisconsin's N.C.A.A. tournament run as much as anybody.

When Bronson Koenig’s game-winning 3-point shot fell through the net, Howard Moore’s first reaction was to shoot off the bench with both of his arm’s extended in the arm. His first task when thinking clearly was to find head coach Greg Gard and hit him with a bear hug.

“When I saw him, I had to get him,” Moore said. “I knew the media was going to grab him for interviews and all that, but that’s my friend. He’s really become a great story.”

Moore’s story has been equaling appealing. Fired from his first head coaching job at Illinois-Chicago last spring after five seasons, Moore took a job as a Big Ten Network analyst for this season. He hadn’t been on the job for long when Bo Ryan retired and Gard was promoted on an interim basis.

Shortly after the news broke, Moore’s phone rang. It was Gard, calling to inquire if Moore wanted to return to the bench at his alma mater. He’s been there ever since.

“He asked me to come back and be with him,” said Moore, who will be again be on the bench when No.7-seed Wisconsin (22-12) takes on No.6-seed Notre Dame (23-11) tonight at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “We’re doing this the way we were taught. We’ve learned from a great person and a great guy in Coach Ryan in terms of teaching the game.”

Moore was part of the program that ended Wisconsin’s 47-year N.C.A.A. tournament absence in 1994, earning a No.9 seed in the West Region. Coached by Stu Jackson, UW knocked off No.8 Cincinnati before losing to top-seeded Missouri. 

He filled the void on Ryan’s staff in 2005 when Rob Jeter left to become the head coach of Milwaukee. On the bench for six seasons, Moore was a part of two Sweet 16 teams and an Elite Eight appearance his first season, a season that ended with an 88-82 loss to eventual national champion North Carolina.

In five years with at UIC, the Flames made one postseason appearance in the CollegeInsider.com tournament in 2013. Knowing his friend needed him, Moore packed up his things and headed to his second home.

“This is a basketball family,” Moore said. “We’ve got each other’s back.”

Moore said him and Gard have not talked about whether Moore will return in a full-time assistant role next season or not. After missing out on two Final Four runs the past two years with some of the players he recruited (Duje Dukan and Frank Kaminsky to name a pair), Moore is eager to do whatever he can to be a part of one.

“I’m not too concern about (my future),” Moore said. “It’ll take care of itself. We’ll sit down and do an interview, follow the formalities and see where it is. I’ve got to still figure out where my family’s (heads are) at. They’ve allowed me to do this I’ve got to make sure they are ready to move forward if this is available to us.

“I did my job when I was here. Now I get a chance to do it again and do it for another boss, but it’s still Wisconsin. That’s the biggest factor in all of this.”

Surviving the hump

Through Wisconsin’s first three tumultuous months of its season, the Badgers seemingly couldn’t catch a break in close games. Wisconsin fell by two points to Western Illinois, by one to Milwaukee and by two to Marquette.

The departure of Ryan and the promotion of Gard didn’t change anything either, as Wisconsin lost to Purdue, Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern by a combined 15 points to drop them to 1-4 in the league

The only success Wisconsin enjoyed was a 74-73 victory over VCU in the third-place game of the 2K Classic in New York, a game decided by a Bronson Koenig jumper in the final seconds.

Those issues are in the past, which could make for a fun conclusion tonight. The Badgers are a perfect in their last five games decided by six points or fewer. That includes Sunday’s 66-63 thriller over No.2 Xavier in which Koenig buried two 3-pointers in the final 11.7 seconds, including the winner at the buzzer. It was redemption since Koenig had missed tying shots against both Western Illinois and Milwaukee.

Notre Dame is 9-4 this season in such games, including a 76-75 victory over Stephen F. Austin on Sunday, on a last-second tip-in by freshman Rex Pflueger.

It's more what they're telling themselves,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “…I think at this point in the season a group has complete ownership of itself and what they're saying to each other, and how they pick each other up and how they believe is more important than what I'm saying to them.”

Homecoming of sorts for Thomas

Fourteen of the 17 players on Wisconsin’s roster hail from Minnesota, Ohio or Wisconsin, so an East Coast trip isn’t exactly the quickest car ride. That’s not the case for Charlie Thomas.

Thomas, a true freshman, is from Highland, MD, and played his prep basketball at River Hills HS, a little more than two hours southeast of Philadelphia. After having a strong contingent when the Badgers won at Maryland Feb.9, Thomas is hopeful his cheering section can gobble up tickets.

“I’m going to try to have a crew up there again,” Thomas said, with a beaming smile. “I’ll hopefully have a lot of people up there.” 

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