Woeful offense plagues Badgers again

I feel sorry for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
Seriously, I do.
The Badgers have been in an offensive funk and can’t seem to get out of it.
Saturday’s woeful start against No. 5 and Big Ten foe Illinois was another lesson that regardless how much emphasis a team places on defense, it still must put the ball in the bucket at the other end of the court.
The Badgers missed their first 11 of 12 shots from the field, reminding me of some of my old high school days when I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
On Saturday, Wisconsin converted only 24 of 69 field goal attempts for less than 35 percent, including a paltry 32 percent from 3-point territory on 10 of 31 tries.
On the other hand, the Illini cashed in with 25 of 48 field goal tries for 52 percent, including almost 56 percent from beyond the arc on 5 of 9.
I give the Badgers credit. As always, they never quit and fought back from an early 16-point deficit, trailed, 37-26, at halftime and made it exciting at the end before losing, 74-69.
However, Coach Greg Gard’s senior-dominated lineup is unable to finish, just as it has many times against the nation’s elite teams this season.
While No. 23 Wisconsin (16-9) will certainly drop out of the top 25 national rankings this week, they very well could also finish the season at 16-11 after next week’s conference finales on the road against rugged Big Ten opponents Purdue and Iowa.
Although Wisconsin is a shoo-in to make the NCAA tournament, it will probably be "one-and-done," unless its offense wakes up and is able to play an entire game for a change.

La Crosse lands 2021 Tackle Warehouse TITLE Championship

Guess what?
FLW and Explore La Crosse announced last September the 2021 FLW Tackle Warehouse TITLE Pro Circuit Championship is being held Aug. 17-22, on the Mississippi River in La Crosse.
It’s been one of the best kept sports secrets in La Crosse in 2021.
Although FLW’s top championship has been held on the Mississippi River once before – in Moline, Ill., in 1998 – this event is the first time that FLW has played host to its premier event in La Crosse.
“We are elated to host the TITLE Pro Circuit Championship and showcase the incredible bass fishing that the Upper Mississippi River offers,” said A.J. Frels, Executive Director of Explore La Crosse. “The scenic La Crosse region presents a picturesque backdrop of bluffs that overlooks one of the best bass fisheries in the country.”
La Crosse and the Mississippi River have played host to many FLW tournaments in the past, including four High School Fishing events, three Abu Garcia College Fishing events, 43 Phoenix Bass Fishing League tournaments, five Toyota Series tournaments and two Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit qualifiers.
Hometown hero Tom Monsoor collected $125,000 by winning the Tackle Warehouse pro circuit qualifier last July in La Crosse and hopes to be among the 50 top pros advancing to this year’s championship.
“It would be great to be able to make the championship again, especially this year,” Monsoor said.
“The catch-weigh-release format fits the Mississippi River perfectly as massive quantities of quality largemouth and smallmouth inhabit these bountiful waters, providing nonstop action and exciting competition for the live webcast and television broadcasts,” Frels added.
Each Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit tournament features live on-the-water coverage plus television coverage on the Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel.
“We couldn’t be more excited to take the Tackle Warehouse TITLE to La Crosse and the Mississippi River,” said Kathy Fennel, FLW Executive Vice President and General Manager. “We’ve had tremendous success hosting tournaments in La Crosse in the past, so it made bringing our championship an obvious choice. The bass fishing fans in Wisconsin have always been extremely passionate and enthusiastic, and we’re proud to be showcasing our most prestigious championship to them.”
The 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit features six regular-season tournaments showcasing the best 150 anglers in the world competing for as much as $135,000, including a $35,000 FLW PHOENIX Bonus, in a five biggest fish format on top bass fisheries at peak times. The top 50 pros will compete for as much as $235,000, including a $35,000 FLW PHOENIX Bonus, in a catch, weigh, immediate-release format.
The 2021 season wraps up with the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE in La Crosse from Tuesday, Aug. 17, through Sunday, Aug. 22, at Veterans Freedom Park on French Island.

Old football coach’s words still ring true

In my first year of a long career as a daily newspaper sports journalist spanning more than four decades, a College Hall of Fame football coach told me something I have always remembered.
“Bob, the last 2 minutes of the first half and the first 2 minutes of the second half often determine the outcome.”
I stored those 22 words in my memory bank back then and discovered quickly that he was right. Through years of covering football games at all levels, it has proved true many times.
That simple sentence spoke loud and clear into what is now my old pea-sized brain again while watching the Green Bay Packers-LA Rams NFC semifinal playoff game on Saturday.
The Rams had just cut the Packers lead to 16-10 on a 4-yard TD pass to Van Jefferson with only 29 seconds left to play in the first half. Rather than taking a knee for the final 29 ticks, future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers marched his Packers from their own 25-yard line close enough for a 39-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a 19-10 breather entering the locker room at halftime. Green Bay’s aggressiveness obviously caught the Rams defense by surprise and knocked the wind from their sails.
Green Bay maintained its momentum on the opening series of the second half when running back Aaron Jones exploded up the middle on the first play from scrimmage for a 60-yard gain. Jones eventually scored on a 1-yard TD run for a 25-10 cushion with 12:10 still remaining in the third quarter.
Oh sure, the Rams fought back and eventually made it a one-possession game, 25-18, with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the third period. But the Packer “D” shut them out in the fourth quarter, and wide receiver Allen Lazard sealed the 32-18 victory with a 58-yard touchdown reception from Rodgers.
Next up, it’s the top-seeded Packers, now 14-3 overall, entertaining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at Lambeau Field on Sunday for the NFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl LV.
Packer fans remember all too well the first time the two teams met this season. The Bucs dealt the Pack its first loss of the season in Week 6 of regular play. It was Green Bay's first loss of the season after a 4-0 start and one of only three losses on the year. The 38-10 setback was also the only time the Packers, who own the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, were held under 22 points.
Kickoff is 2:05 p.m. CT., on Fox-TV.
Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see how that 4-minute window plays out.

Stop it! Rodgers will remain a Packer

Stop it!
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t going anywhere.
Ever since the last few seconds ticked off the clock on Sunday and the Green Bay Packers were denied another Super Bowl appearance, sports talking heads bloviate that it was his last game as a Packer because:
* He is ever so mindful the Packers traded up in the first round last spring to take what is presumed to be his eventual heir-apparent, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.  
* The Packers will trade Rodgers.
* He himself will demand a trade.
* If not, Rodgers will announce his retirement to force a trade.
First and foremost, Rodgers is under contract for three more seasons. He signed a four-year, $134 million extension in 2018 and the dead cap money alone for 2021 would be more than $31 million. Even the Packers can’t afford that amount considering they have several key free agents they must sign to be able to build upon their relatively young roster.
Second, why would Rodgers wish to leave a team that is a perennial playoff team? Get to the postseason and anything can happen, right? And Green Bay is already a heavy favorite to win the NFC North Division again next season.
Third. Why would Green Bay even think about trading this season’s  presumptuous league MVP? Imagine the flak that would cause among Packers fans.
One thing is extremely clear. Head coach Matt LaFleur is in no hurry to see a Rodgers-less Packers team.
When asked in his postgame presser whether he wants Rodgers to return, La Fleur quickly replied, "I mean, the guy's the MVP of this league. He's the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah, he better be back here.”

Green Bay ‘D’ making a bold statement

The much-maligned Green Bay Packers defense certainly appears to be moving in the right direction after struggling against opposing rushers through at least the first half of the season.
Simply look at a few stats from their last five games - all victories.
The defense didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher, including NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. The Packers ranked 9th in the NFL in yards allowed, 8th in sack percentage, 8th in red zone defense, tied for 10th in third down conversions allowed and were 4th in goal to go. They also allowed only 3 passing TDs and gave up 16 or fewer points in four of their last five games.
Who would have ever imagined Mike Pettine’s defense would finish the season as the 12th best total defense out of 32 NFL teams?
The No. 1 seed, home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the coveted bye week allows Packer players and coaches to rest, recharge and return to what is hoped to be electric practices leading to a strong Super Bowl run.
While Green Bay is only 1-2 coming off bye weeks under second-year head coach Matt LaFleur, it’s still an enviable position to be in, considering it’s now the postseason.
While the Green Bay offense remains the headline grabber, it takes a solid, but not great defense and special teams to win the Lombardi Trophy. The Packers ‘D’ has proved it’s ready. Now, if the special teams can pick it up, the Packers could indeed win it all. Agree or disagree?

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