MADISON—The Kohl Center filled with energy on Thursday night, and the Wisconsin Badgers gave their fans plenty to cheer about in their 65-45 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin (21-9, 13-6 Big Ten) now has won four of its last five and sits in solid position for fourth place and that coveted double bye in the Big Ten Tournament next week. There is still work to be done ahead against Ohio State on Saturday, and other factors could be in play before that contest as well, to lock down that spot. However, the Badgers’ performance on Senior Night helped their cause.
A senior sendoff capped with big performances from two starters, staunch defense suffocating any offensive production from Iowa and some bench help from Aleem Ford contributed to a blowout Wisconsin win. Let’s look at B5Q’s takeaways:
Two Wisconsin seniors leave one last mark at the Kohl Center
What a way for senior forwards Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson to take a bow in their final home game of their Wisconsin career.
Happ led the way with a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds—his 20th double-double of the season that leads the Big Ten—along with three assists, two blocks and two steals. Despite coming into the game converting just 45 percent of his free throw attempts, he made 11 of 18 from the line (61.1 percent) in front of the Wisconsin faithful.
“I’ll tell you what, he racked up these stats yesterday in practice,” Gard said. “He won the game yesterday in terms of how he practiced yesterday was as good as he’s been all year, and that’s something we’ve been trying to encourage, and encourage is a nice word I’ll use that how he practices every single day.
“His energy, his body language, his everything was off the charts yesterday. I mean Senior Night was in sight, I don't know what it is, but he played tonight how he practiced yesterday—and I went home last night going, ‘You know what, we’ll be OK tomorrow because our leader, our best player, was really good today.’ When you have that, it’s infectious. It really is. Other guys feed off of it, so that was good to see yesterday.”
For Iverson, what a time to record your first collegiate double-double, 11 points and 11 rebounds, and he once again showed he’s arguably playing the best basketball of his career when it matters.
“I was happy he got that double-double,” Happ said. “I didn’t know it, but then I looked up and saw it. He’s done a lot of work in the shadows so it’s nice these last couple of weeks for him to really hit the spotlight and you guys all see how talented he really is.
“He’s not good at [NBA] 2K or ping pong, but he can play though out there,” Happ added with a playfully joking jab at his teammate.
Iverson started the lopsided contest off with a thunderous dunk early on, and overall, connected on four of seven attempts from the field and all three free throws. It was the fourth time in five contests he has scored in double figures, and on the glass, also the fourth time in five games he collected five or more rebounds.
Seniors leading the way is usually a good sign for the program heading into conference and NCAA tournament time.
Thank you, Madison! -@EthanHapp22, probably.— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) March 8, 2019
BTN x @AutoOwnersIns pic.twitter.com/vzResFFx60
Defense leads the way in taming Hawkeyes
Wisconsin contained Iowa to a season-low 45 points. The Hawkeyes’ previous low? That would be 65 points against Maryland in mid-February. That total is also a season low that the Badgers have allowed this season.
Consider this as well—Wisconsin has held three teams to 46 or fewer points this season. Stanford and Northwestern experienced that firsthand in prior games, and now Iowa is added to the list.
If not for the late 8-0 run by Iowa in the final 2:02 with UW’s reserves in the game, the offensive output for a Fran-less Iowa squad would have been even lower.
Happ believes Wisconsin has come a long way in many areas on the defensive side of the ball, calling out keeping their hands out and not allowing their opponent to get to the free throw line.
“I think that’s definitely a big part of it, taking steps in that area but this is definitely one of the best defensive performances of the year,” Happ said after the game.
Overall, Wisconsin’s defense constricted its opponents to just 18-of-59 shooting (30.5 percent) from the field and just 5-of-22 from three-point range. The Hawkeyes also committed 15 turnovers and went to the free throw line just six times in the loss.
As of Friday morning, KenPom.com ranks Wisconsin’s adjusted defensive efficiency fourth in the nation. This team can do it on this end of the court.
The only question is if their at times inconsistent scoring and free throw shooting will hurt them in the Big Ten Tournament next week or the ensuing NCAA Tournament in a couple of weeks’ time.
Aleem Ford steps up, especially in first half scoring
After scoring a combined nine points in the past seven conference games, Ford stepped up with nine points in the win over the Hawkeyes. Seven of those came in the first half, and he also finished with five rebounds. It was a welcomed sight for another Badger contributing when starting guards D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison combined for 10 points and 4-of-13 shooting, 2-of-9 from three-point range.
Ford noted after the game that he just tried to stay “ready any given night.”
“It could be a different person,” Ford said, “so just me, Kobe [King] and ‘Brev’ [Pritzl] have always talked to each other about staying ready and just when we get in there to be aggressive because it could be a different guy to give a spark any night.”
Dunks set the tone in both halves
The Wisconsin faithful—including a surged up Student Section—provided a lot of energy inside the Kohl Center on Thursday night. The “We Want Charlie” and “We Want Chuck” chants by the students were most definitely pronounced when wanting to see senior forward Charles Thomas enter the game in the second half.
As @jasonbenetti said, "Welcome to Senior Night!"— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2019
And @BadgerMBB's Khalil Iverson needs no introduction. pic.twitter.com/nQv56qWUIh
What also helped with that energy inside the Kohl Center—dunks. Iverson set the tone early in the game with the hammer to score the game’s first points, while Nate Reuvers’ dunk with 19:27 remaining opened the second half scoring and pushed the UW lead to double digits for the first time in the contest.
Heck, even Brevin Pritzl and Aleem Ford got into the action in slamming home baskets that excited the Wisconsin crowd. If Thomas connects on his dunk attempt in the second half, I swear the Kohl Center would have erupted.