IOWA CITY, Iowa – Playing its third game in seven days, many asked members of University of Wisconsin’s starting lineup how much more they had in the tank with all the minutes they had been logging.
The vocal response was “we’re fine.” The actual response resounded much louder.
Wisconsin’s embraced yet another road environment by being the stronger team down the stretch against the rested Hawkeyes, closing the game on an 8-1 run to deliver a 67-59 victory over No.8 Iowa at a stunned Carver-Hawkeye Arena Wednesday night.
“We come to practice every single day ready to get better possession by possession,” said junior Bronson Koenig, who led UW’s balanced charge with 15 points. “That’s what Coach (Gard) always preaches. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on, and it’s been working.”
Tying the Big Ten record with its 16th straight winning season, Wisconsin (18-10, 10-6 Big Ten) has now won two road games in the same season against top 10 team for the first time since 1955, and the Badgers accomplished it 11 days apart.
And while Wisconsin ended Maryland’s 27 game home winning streak with pure dominance, the Badgers took down the Hawkeyes (23-6, 11-4) for the sixth straight time – and ended their 16 game winning streak - with a complete team effort.
Koenig was the leading scorer but the Badgers got at least seven points from five other players, making up for foul-plagued Ethan Happ (five points, 2-for-4) and another off-shooting night for Nigel Hayes (3-for-11). Hayes scraped together 10 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:42 remaining to start an 8-1 run to end the game.
But what will really excite the fan base was the brunt of the contributions came from the youth of the roster. Khalil Iverson, who had scored two points in the last five games combined, delivered with nine points in 20 minutes. He added three rebounds, three assists and a handful of thunderous dunks, including a windmill slam that punctuated an 8-0 run that put UW up 53-51 with 8:46 left.
“That was part of the plan two months ago,” said Gard, whose team moved into a tie for fourth place and is two games out of first in the Big Ten. “We had to develop something with the idea that hopefully down the road – they weren’t ready yet Dec.23 when they played that first – hopefully in time it would pay off. It paid off big tonight.”
Even freshman Charlie Thomas, who was on the scout team all week, responded when he was called in for duty to buy time for Happ with five points. Just 3-for-11 from 3-point range this season, Thomas’ 3-pointer with 6:15 left gave Wisconsin a 56-54 lead, and UW wouldn’t trail again.
“He got absolutely about zero reps with the regulars,” Gard said of Thomas.
The Badgers shot 51.9 percent in the first half, a result of going 10-for-18 on 2-point shots and scoring 18 points in the lane, but trailed by as many as six in the opening minutes of the second half as Iowa hit timely shots and took advantage of spotty possessions.
From that point forward, Wisconsin became the rugged team. The Badgers chipped away on offense, brought tough pressure on defense and continued to get big contributions from uncommon places.
After shooting 40 percent in the first half, Iowa shot just 26.7 percent in the second half, including scoring three points and making no field goals in the final 6:01.
“We knew if we held them to 65 points or lower we’d have a good chance to win,” said Koenig, who made four of UW’s 10 3-pointers. “They were pushing it on us for a while in the first half and early in the second half, but we tried to limit that as much as possible.”
Scoring 17 of Iowa’s final 22 points to close the first half, Peter Jok was held to only four points in the second half by the relentless Showalter. Limited to 13 minutes in the second half because of foul trouble and a gimpy ankle, Showalter also managed to chip in seven points, five rebounds, a steal and an assist.
In a game of turning points and 11 lead changes, Showalter swiping the ball out of Adam Woodbury’s arms (six points, 18 rebounds) and having go off the senior’s leg out of bounds, as well as the junior’s driving layup with 1:12 left to make it 64-58, were big.
Held over 20 points below their average, Iowa also got 13 points from Anthony Clemmons and 11 points from former Wisconsin forward Jarrod Uthoff, who shot 3-for-12 and – barring a matchup in the postseason – finished 0-5 in games he played against his former team. He didn’t address the media postgame.
UW’s stingy defense helped overcome giving up 20 offensive rebounds by limiting Iowa to 1-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half.
“I thought we fouled too much in the first half and they got some things in transition that we needed to clean up, but we did a better job in the second half after that start,” said Gard. “Once we settled in and got back in rhythm, we really answered the bell. Every time they hit us with something, we had an answer that was a little bit better.”