Taking on an improved Illinois squad that came into Monday night’s matchup winners of four its last five, the Wisconsin Badgers ultimately held on for a 64-58 win inside the Kohl Center.
The win briefly vaulted Wisconsin (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten) into a tie for fourth place with Maryland in the conference standings before the Terps beat Iowa on Tuesday night. The Badgers now sit alone in fifth heading into Saturday night’s road contest at Northwestern.
UW overcame poor shooting in the first half—and with the help of Brad Davison’s 18 points, Khalil Iverson seemingly making plays on all parts of the court, plus some others stepping up at key moments—it wound up with its 10th conference victory of the season.
Here are some quick takeaways before I get to some house chores with the kids at the in-laws this week.
Khalil Iverson does a little bit of everything against Illinois
A season-high 16 points combined with nine rebounds look pretty on the stat sheet. Looking deeper, five of those nine boards were on the offensive end of the court. He also recorded a key block late in the second half that turned into a Davison fast break layup to put Wisconsin up four with under three minutes to play.
“He’s always a spark for us, and he’s someone that everyone feeds off his energy so when he’s playing aggressive, when he’s attacking the rim and literally ripping the rim down, that’s something we all feed off of and something that gives us energy,” Davison said. “That’s the Khalil Iverson we need moving forward, and that’s what we’re going to have from him. Aggressive, confident, he does a lot of great things for us.”
When asked if there’s something about an aggressive game that he likes, Iverson noted he felt “like more things open up that way when teams play aggressive defense like Illinois plays, so it just makes it easier to drive and get to the basket.”
Remember, he also recorded 12 points and seven rebounds earlier this season at Champaign in Wisconsin’s 72-60 win over Illinois.
Electric performance by @BadgerMBB’s @iverson_khalil tonight.— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) February 19, 2019
BTN x @Redbox pic.twitter.com/L00Davt0cj
His thunderous dunk at the end of the first half closed the gap to one point heading into intermission, but perhaps the key play from him came on an Illinois inbounds pass with about 13 seconds left to play in regulation.
Let's just say that the half ended much better than it started.@iverson_khalil pulls No. 22 @BadgerMBB to within one on buzzer-beating putback. pic.twitter.com/46cC7gondP— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 19, 2019
Iverson stole the ball and went on to make one of two free throws to put the Badgers up five. According to the senior forward, he explained the coaches showed the players a play Illinois may run during the timeout preceding the steal, and he believed that was the exact play they ran.
“I was just trying to anticipate when he was going to throw the ball, and I think I’m pretty quick, so I put my hand up there.”
“Super quick,” Davison chimed.
Multiple players stepped up with Happ out
It was not just Iverson’s night, and there needed to be others with Happ sitting on the bench for the final four-plus minutes. Davison rebounded from a poor showing against Michigan State six days earlier by scoring a game-high 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting. He contributed six of the team’s final 12 points with Happ sitting.
Redshirt junior guard Brevin Pritzl scored six points but grabbed a game-high (game-high!) 10 rebounds, including one in the closing seconds that ultimately sealed the win. More about him in a bit.
Sophomore forward Nate Reuvers tallied nine points—including a key putback with 27 seconds to play off a missed Pritzl three-pointer—along with five rebounds and three blocks.
Though he scored just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, D’Mitrik Trice connected on a basket with 96 seconds remaining to push the lead back to two possessions.
Ethan Happ sat the final 4:06 because of the turnovers
A reporter asked Gard after the game if Happ sat the final part of the game due to just the turnovers or if free throws—where he’s shooting 43.4 percent from the line and did not make his three attempts on Monday—played a role. Gard noted it was the turnovers.
“I just wanted better decisions made, and that’s what we were able to get,” Gard said.
Brevin Pritzl continues to make presence known outside of point scoring
Gard mentioned he was thinking about subbing Pritzl out late in the game but didn’t want to take him out. He rewarded his head coach’s decision-making but grabbing his 10th rebound and hit one of two free throws.
“He just has an awareness about him,” Gard said. “He’s one of those ‘glue guys’ that helps you win.”
Gard alluded to a past press conference where Purdue head coach Matt Painter spoke about “glue guys” and the Boilermakers’ Grady Eifert. Gard noted on Monday night that the Wisconsin has had “a boatload of guys like that here, too” where the “sum of the whole is greater than the parts.”
“You look at, ‘How is he playing there? How is he getting that many minutes at Wisconsin?’” Gard said. “He does little things that helps teams win, and he has a great understanding of the game. He’s very cerebral, and sometimes he talks too much when he comes by me on the sideline, but as long as he keeps rebounding and making shots and playing defense that’s fine.”
Illinois will be a tough team in the Big Ten Tournament
Kudos to Brad Underwood’s squad for taking it to the Badgers inside their home arena and could have pulled out the win.
There is a reason why they won four straight and five of six heading into Monday night’s contest in the Kohl Center.
“Most improved team in the league,” Gard said. “I thought that watching them. I watched every game from our game when we played them the last through obviously their last one at Ohio State.”
Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, Giorgi Bezhanishvili and others will likely be a handful for other programs down the stretch in conference play and in the Big Ten Tournament.