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Wisconsin’s not-so “big men” stepped up in rebounding vs. Illinois

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Height is just a number, at least it was on Monday night.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

A quick look at the stats sheet from Monday night’s win against Illinois showed three intriguing Wisconsin Badgers as the leaders in rebounds.

Wisconsin out-rebounded Illinois 40-33, and you would think Ethan Happ—the team’s leader in that category—would be at or among the top of the list.

Happ only recorded three in 27 minutes, however, while Brevin Pritzl (10), Khalil Iverson (nine) and Brad Davison (seven) tallied 26 of the team’s 40 in the contest.

What’s perhaps intriguing, is that all three are listed at 6’5 or under.

Pritzl posted a career high in rebounds against the Illini, and it was the second time this season and fourth in his career that he led the team in this category in a single game. Illinois shot 37.5 percent from the field in the loss, and the redshirt junior noted the tough shots Brad Underwood’s team takes.

“Rebounding is all about positioning really,” Pritzl told B5Q on Thursday. “You don’t have to be the most athletic player to get boards, so it’s about putting yourself in the right positions, boxing out, and securing the ball.”

When it comes to rebounding, the De Pere, Wis., native explained that players have to read the rim, attack the ball, and rebound out of one’s space.

“You can’t just wait for the ball to come to you, so the big thing is just getting in, get in position and then attacking the ball instead of letting it come to you,” Pritzl said.

Iverson continued his dominant ways over Illinois, scoring a season-high 16 points with those nine rebounds. Against the Illini on Jan. 26 in Champaign, he tallied seven boards in addition to what was then a season-high 12 points.

In 25 games this season, Iverson has grabbed five or more rebounds 11 times, including a career-high 12 boards against Stanford in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. Twice during the 2018-19 campaign, he has led the team in this category while owning that distinction 11 times in his UW career.

On Monday night in the conference win, five of his nine boards were on the offensive glass. One of those came on a putback dunk with under a second remaining that trimmed the Illinois lead to one at 26-25 heading into halftime.

As the 6’5 senior told B5Q on Thursday, he wants to give as many possessions as possible to his teammates to make plays—especially in closer games.

“So then pretty much, like I just said, just attacking the glass hard and trying to get these guys open shots because normally once you get an offensive rebound,” Iverson said, “the kickouts are usually the open shot, and it’s to guys like Brad and ‘Meech’ [D’Mitrik Trice] and Brevin and those guys.”

Davison tied a career-high in rebounds on Monday night, a mark that was previously attained earlier this season in a road win at Penn State. The 6’3 guard explained that Illinois played fast, took “a lot of different shots” and didn’t “play to their post.”

“Giorgi [Bezhanishvili] is obviously a very good player, but I think they took a lot of outside shots and midrange shots, what we were trying to force,” Davison said on Thursday. “Giorgi is a load, so Ethan and Nate [Reuvers] and Chuck [Charles Thomas], they’re boxing out the big guys, and it’s our job to go in there and clean it up.”

Six times this season Davison has grabbed five or more rebounds, including in four conference games.

“I just try to put my face on the ball,” Davison said. “Wherever the ball is, that’s where I’m trying to be. Defensive rebounding is huge for us to close out a possession and just get going the other way so whatever we can to help the team, we’re going to try to do, so I just try to put my face on the ball and sometimes happen to be there.”

Wisconsin assistant coach Dean Oliver, a former All-Big Ten guard for Iowa, pointed out the concentration when physically boxing out opponents, but also, something he described as “just pure heart.”

“Who wants the ball more, and holding the guy’s position longer and doing it without fouling. We did a great job of that,” Oliver said. “A lot of times you got to give credit to the bigs because when they block out, a lot of times those guards get in there and end up with the rebounds because the bigs blocked out their bigs.”

After the Illinois game, head coach Greg Gard praised Pritzl—known more for his potential shooting ability from deep before this season—as one of the glue guys on this year’s team in having an awareness and “great understanding of the game.”

When asked about his role on the team this year, Pritzl said he has to stay ready.

“It’s about one, two shots a game about what I get, and it’s about being ready to perform and hit those shots so that’s really all that matters,” Pritzl said, who scored six points against Illinois and is averaging 4.8 per game heading into Saturday night’s match-up against Northwestern (7:30 p.m. CT, BTN).

“I used to look at points as the only thing you could do on a basketball court, and I came here, and it hasn’t been my role exactly. It’s been hit shots when they’re there. Hit the good shots, shoot the open ones, so it really is about playing good basketball. I think that’s what I pride myself on is not turning the ball over, reboudning, defending the best I can, just doing the little things to help us win.”