Davison's return to Badgers sure to be jeered by Gopher fans

MINNEAPOLIS — Brad Davison is one of the many Minnesota natives who have crossed the border to play for Wisconsin, a sure path to enemy status in college sports.

The junior guard has also been widely branded, fair or not, as the biggest villain in the Big Ten for his intense habits on the court. After his latest transgression drew a one-game suspension from the league office, Davison's return to action Wednesday will come, fittingly, at Williams Arena. The Badgers have not lost in The Barn in six years, to add just a little more edge to the atmosphere.

The biggest slam dunk of the night? Davison being jeered.

"He loves the rivalry between us and Minnesota,” Badgers point guard D’Mitrik Trice said Monday. “He just embraces that to the fullest. He doesn’t really take account what other people say on the outside about him or about his game. He just goes out there and plays hard every time.”

The Gophers have largely kept their feelings to themselves about Davison, unlike Iowa guard Connor McCaffery on Jan. 27 after the Hawkeyes beat the Badgers. Davison was called that night for a "Flagrant 1" foul for his now-infamous attempt to move through a screen by wrapping his left arm around McCaffery's left leg and making contact with the groin area.

"He grabbed me right in the — where you don’t want to be grabbed in,” McCaffery told reporters after the game. “He does that. He’s marked for doing that. He’s the type of player, unfortunately, who feels the need to do that stuff.”

Badgers coach Greg Gard has vehemently defended the character of Davison since then, expressing his disagreement with the punishment and Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren's mention of a “pattern of similar behavior” in his statement on the suspension.

Davison has not been made available to most reporters since the suspension, but he told The Athletic for an article posted Monday that he did not mean any harm to McCaffrey and does not want to carry the dirty-player label.

“I always try to play with a lot of intensity, but there's a big difference between playing with intensity and intent," Davison said. “I would never intentionally try to hit anyone anywhere.”

Davison, who's from Maple Grove, a suburb about 20 miles northwest of the Minnesota campus, was accused in some corners of tripping Gophers guard Nate Mason at Wisconsin in 2018 and doing the same to Gophers forward Jordan Murphy at Minnesota a year ago. Neither of those alleged acts drew fouls or other punishment, the latter of which caused Minnesota officials to seek clarification from the conference as to whether the whistle should have blown.

The Badgers (13-9, 6-5), whose second-leading scorer, Kobe King, left the program last week, delivered their best win of the season Saturday over Michigan State with Davison's absence leaving only seven available scholarship players. The Gophers (11-10, 5-6) are similarly trying to keep up in a crowded middle of the pack with the Big Ten as deep as ever.

Building a bid for the NCAA Tournament, then, will be far more important to both teams than the sideshows of reputation and revenge. Gophers coach Richard Pitino said he didn't need to remind his players to keep their cool.

“They watch all the games and understand all the story lines and all the narratives just like everybody else does, so we just talk about what we need to do to win the game,” Pitino said.

Gophers center Daniel Oturu, named this week as one of the 20 late-season finalists for the John R. Wooden Award given to the national player of the year, has been a part of a few exchanges of stare-downs and unfriendly contact with opponents over time. He said Tuesday he's learned to keep focused on the game and not let emotions negatively sway his actions.

As a native of the Twin Cities area himself, Oturu was asked whether beating Davison and fellow Minnesota transplants Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl, who are also starters for the Badgers, served as additional motivation.

“That’s probably what people expect, but I really don’t care, to be honest,” Oturu said. “It just really doesn’t matter. All that matters to me is just going out there and trying to get this win.”