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How Wisconsin men's basketball reached 'scramble mode' on its unique road trip

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It all was settled. Until it wasn't.

Marc VandeWettering made all the late arrangements for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team to fly from Chicago's Midway Airport to Baltimore at 7:30 p.m. Monday after the Badgers played Northwestern in a rescheduled game.

It was Friday night and the 2:30 p.m. Monday tipoff had been agreed upon to the point where VandeWettering, UW's director of basketball operations, could get that charter flight scheduled before the weekend.

The game's start time then became less certain because Northwestern, which had to postpone the game that originally was scheduled for Saturday due to COVID-19 cases in the team, was facing staffing issues at Welsh-Ryan Arena for an afternoon tipoff.

"By the time they said maybe not, it was after hours," VandeWettering said. "And that's when it was full-on scramble mode."

The end of the story is that the Northwestern game happened and the Badgers are in place for Wednesday's 6 p.m. contest against Maryland in College Park.

In between was a lot of working the phones by VandeWettering over the weekend to rearrange air and bus travel and hotel rooms while a time to play the Wildcats was up in the air.

UW and Northwestern checked their schedules after the game initially was called off last Thursday and decided that the only time to get it played and avoid a no contest was Monday.

"There was no good option to make this happen," UW coach Greg Gard said after Monday's 66-63 loss against the Wildcats. "This was the one that stunk the least of all of them."

VandeWettering, who's in his sixth season on the UW staff, has been through rescheduling games before, especially two seasons ago when COVID-19 made postponements more common.

The planned 5:30 p.m. start time that made the rounds Saturday wasn't going to work with a 7:30 p.m. flight, so VandeWettering got to work in changing things. But as difficult as it is to alter charter air travel at the last minute, VandeWettering said, it's even more complicated to do so on a weekend.

"This certainly felt like more unique of a challenge because of that," he said.

UW canceled its planned charter flight from Madison to Maryland on Tuesday when the Northwestern game went on Monday's calendar, so there was no turning back on the Chicago plan.

It was too late to cancel hotel rooms for Sunday night when the team decided to make Monday a long day and leave for Evanston around 9 a.m. UW took its shootaround at Welsh-Ryan Arena in the late morning then used its hotel block until it was time to leave for the game.

The changes in a chaotic stretch left the Badgers with an undesirable schedule — two games 650 miles apart in about 48 hours.

"You have to be flexible and pivot," Gard said. "None of us want to be in this situation, specifically when you have to stack the games like this, but it is what it is. I felt it was more important than to play the game than to go to a no contest."

UW's Jordan Davis said he was surprised that there still were postponements related to COVID, but VandeWettering said there was no complaining from the players.

"They're just so level-headed," VandeWettering said. "They've gone through COVID with learning and playing and all these different things. They've just always rolled with whatever's thrown their way, which has been awesome to see."

The charter plane carrying the Badgers east took off from Midway just before 10 p.m. Monday and landed in Baltimore just after midnight, beating the estimated arrival by seven minutes. Something finally happened earlier than scheduled.

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