MADISON - Five hours before the Wisconsin men's basketball team faced UW-Plateville in an exhibition game, Greg Gard and Jeff Gard sat in the same church pew for a mass in memory of their late father, Glen.
Glen Gard passed away exactly one year ago Sunday after a nearly six-month battle with glioblastoma multiforme, a rare form of brain cancer. His sons Greg, the head coach of the Badgers, and Jeff, the seventh-year head man for the Pioneers, decided the best way to honor their father's legacy would be for their programs to square off in an exhibition on the anniversary. Other than to get a look at their teams in a competitive game setting, the exhibition took on added significance by bringing awareness to brain cancer.
"I was praying for a win," Jeff Gard said of the service. "[Greg] was praying to stay healthy."
Jeff's prayers were not answered, as Greg used his entire roster on the way to a 86-58 Wisconsin win Saturday at the Kohl Center. Bronson Koenig led all scorers with 12 points, while Jordan Hill and Nigel Hayes added 10 points each. Khalil Iverson was 4-for-4 from the field with three dunks and a 3-pointer on his way to nine points.
Trey Sigel led the Pioneers with 12 points. Plateville made just two of its final 21 field goals on its way to mustering just 24 second-half points, compared to UW's 42 in the final 20 minutes. Regardless of what the final scoreboard showed, Jeff Gard said, he was proud of his team because of the deeper meaning of the game.
"I told the guys in the locker room afterwards that, win or lose today, this program won," Gard said. "Just the stage we were on to make an impact on others' lives. Greg and I talked about that from day one. It [was] going to be a win-win."
During halftime, a score of brain cancer survivors were recognized on the court. A team of researchers and doctors from UW's Carbone Cancer Center received ovations prior to tip-off. Matt Meinholz, a Wisconsin manager who has been cancer-free for five years now, stood during a second-half TV timeout to honor his fight with brain cancer.
At center court, a seat reserved for Glen Gard was occupied by a bouquet of flowers. Normally, Glen would sit behind the Badger bench. But had he been at the game, Greg said, he would not have shown any favoritism.
"Hopefully we can put a positive spin on this," Greg said. "As I told the team, how inspirational they are to other people when things aren't going so well, that they can put some sunshine in somebody else's day when they have to go back and fight this disease. [I'm] really proud of how they handled that piece of it."
The Badgers used a pair of 9-0 runs, one in the first half and one in the second, to aid its large margin of victory. Following a Hayes free throw, Zak Showalter (six points) and Koenig connected on 3-pointers. Then, Koenig flushed a fast-break dunk after a Hayes steal to give Wisconsin a 32-19 lead with 5:59 to go in the first half.
The Badgers led 70-52 with 7:34 remaining in the game when a free throw each from Andy Van Vliet (eight points) and D'Mitrik Trice, followed by baskets from Charles Thomas (five points, 10 rebounds) and Van Vliet, fueled the run. T.J. Schlundt hit a corner 3-pointer to make it 79-52 with 4:20 left.
Overall, it was a good day for UW's bench, which demonstrated why it is possible for Gard to utilize a deep rotation all season. His message to his bench players was to not waste any opportunities.
"We've got decisions to make down the road," Gard said.
The Gard's weren't the only brothers facing off Sunday. Jake Showalter, brother of Zak, went 2-for-9 from the field in 16 minutes for the Pioneers.
"This was the first time we've been on opposite sides of the ball," Jake said. "It was great playing against him. We are just very lucky to play against each other, it was a lot of fun."
Wisconsin's struggles came in the form of turnovers (15) and poor free throw shooting. Wisconsin was just 22-for-39 (56.4 percent) from the charity stripe.