Greg Gard will have to face a grumbling fanbase after Wisconsin was on the wrong side of a classic 5-12 upset. The 5-seed Badgers were bounced from the NCAA Tournament Friday night by 12-seed James Madison, falling 72-61.

UW won the 2nd half, out-scoring JMU 41-39, but it wasn’t enough after trailing 33-20 at the break.

Before taking questions, Gard congratulated James Madison and praised his Wisconsin squad for battling until the final horn.

“First of all, congrats to James Madison,” Gard said to open his postgame press conference. “Even more impressive in person than they were on film, and I was really impressed with them on film. I thought their pressure bothered us, specifically in the first half, obviously with 13 turnovers, they really got after us. We didn’t handle it exceptionally well, and when we did, we weren’t able to finish at times around the rim and missed some easy shots.

“But how this group battled back in the second half to get it back to six. When you have 13 turnovers and shoot 26 percent in the first half, you’ve really dug yourself a hole, but this group has had no quit in them all year. And, you know, to have it back to six twice, and shots to get it closer, they have given everything they had and left it out there on the floor.”

When it came time for Q&A, Gard faced some tough questions. The last time the Badgers made the Sweet 16 was 2017. Unsurprisingly, Gard wasn’t in the mood for reflecting on the big picture after UW’s latest exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Q. You said in your opening statement that you absorb this and move on. What does that look like? When you don’t make the tournament one year and you don’t win it the next, do you have to take a look in the mirror and try to figure out how you can get this program back to where you want it?

GREG GARD: Well, I mean, you play through this and you’re in a one-game playoff so anything can happen. This group wanted to win a Big Ten Championship. We didn’t get there. We got all the way to the finish line last week in Minneapolis, and they didn’t get that one. And they wanted to win and advance in this.

So in a 40-minute game, if you don’t play well, like I’ve said a hundred times, you’re going to go home. So for us, we fought turnovers and shot selection all year, and those sins came back to get us again tonight, more turnovers than maybe ever. This might be our highest turnover game all year. Probably is.

But those things, that’s why you battle all year and teach and coach, to not have that situation where you don’t turn the ball over and you don’t take bad shots, and you use all those lessons during the year to get to this point so you don’t have that happen.

A lot of this is credit to James Madison, too. As these guys said, we haven’t seen a team really come at us and we knew they would. Everybody that we talked to that played them said they are going to come at you and they are going to foul you, and it’s going to be physical and they are going to reach and grab. And you’ve got to be able to handle it, and we didn’t at the start of the game.

Like I said, 13 turnovers in 36 possessions in the first half is a recipe for disaster, but this group found a way to claw back and found a way to take care of the ball better in the second half. The problem was the hole was too deep that we had dug.

Gard was next asked to share his pitch to Badgers to return for 2024-25 instead of hitting the transfer portal or declaring for the NBA Draft. He didn’t have an “elevator pitch” ready on the spot.

“We’re 15 minutes after the end of game, so I don’t know. They don’t know,” Gard said. “I mean, we see the world we’re in. We’ll have conversations. A lot of guys, all but Tyler, have an option to come back, and there will be other options, I’m sure. If guys want to test the waters in the draft or get feedback. We haven’t had those conversations yet. We’re so raw after the end of the game.

“And like I said, you just look at the landscape, that’s the environment we are in. So you have to deal with it and prepare. It could go a hundred different ways. But this core is really good. They are really tight. That locker room, it’s pretty emotional right now and that told me, or tells me — it’s not the first time I’ve seen an emotional locker room, but that tells me they are here for the right reasons.”

In his final question, Gard was asked where Friday night’s loss ranked among his 6 tourney appearances. Gard declined to compare years, saying each team is different, which is a fair point.

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Gard doesn’t want to have tourney troubles conversation, but Badger fans are getting impatient

Gard was in his right to only talk about Friday in his postgame press conference, but he can’t control what the fans want to talk about.

As one might expect, it was a tough scene for Gard on social media, with fans and media discussing UW’s struggle to get back to the Sweet 16.

Gard has a lot of work to do in restoring the Badger faithful’s belief in Wisconsin basketball.