MADISON – Correctly anticipating a sluggish night from his heavy-minute starters following Tuesday’s defeat, head coach Greg Gard decided to use his bench early and often so No.9 Wisconsin could survive on a quick turnaround.
The reserves did more thriving than surviving in carrying the Badgers to the finish line.
Another off night from Wisconsin’s starting lineup didn’t have the same type of impact on the end result with the Badgers’ reserves combining for 36 points in a 69-51 victory over Chicago State Thursday at the Kohl Center.
“Playing in that type of game (at Creighton), I don’t know if we have this type of result if it’s not for the bench,” Gard said. “Guys, the contributions they gave, it’s hard to turnaround.”
Wisconsin (2-1) got scoring from six different players and shot a combined 13-for-21 (61.9 percent), much better than the starting five (13-for-37, 35.1). The biggest lift came from sophomore Khalil Iverson, who finished with a career-high 11 points to go along with five rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
“Just try to be the spark guy, no matter when I get in, no matter who I come in for,” Iverson said of his mindset off the bench. “Just try to go in, do a bunch of positive things, get us going if we’re in a little slump and just provide positive a lot of energy and help us win.”
After three of the five starters played 30 minutes in the 79-67 loss at No.22 Creighton, not to mention a late travel night and a day filled with class and a light practice in between, the Badgers didn’t get much pop from their five starters.
In fact the game against the Cougars (1-1) started earlier similar to what transpired 48 hours previously. Wisconsin made self-inflicted mistakes on its first three possessions – a pair of turnovers and a shot-clock violation – and saw Chicago State (just like Creighton) open the game on an 8-0 run.
Gard didn’t burn a timeout like he did on Tuesday, but he subbed in three players in the first 1:41 to send a not-so-subtle message. UW got the hint.
Wisconsin went on a 19-0 run over the next 8:55 thanks in large part to play from its bench. Junior guard Jordan Hill (3-pointer), sophomore forwards Charles Thomas (2-for-2 FGs, 2 rebounds), Alex Illikainen (two rebounds), Iverson (three rebounds, one block) and D'Mitrik Trice (3-pointer, four assists) all provided sparks during the run.
Leading 32-24 at halftime was thanks in part to the Badgers having an 18-0 edge in bench points, a number that grew to 36-4 by game’s end and a lead that grew to as big as 26.
“Coach Gard does a great job getting those guys ready, whether it’s in practice or getting live game experience like they did so everybody is ready to contribute,” senior Vitto Brown, who led Wisconsin with 12 points, said of the bench. “I’m definitely proud of everybody’s efforts.”
Iverson finished with three dunks, Trice had seven assists to no turnovers while Thomas tied Ethan Happ (eight points) with a team-high seven rebounds.
“I like what I’m seeing in terms of guys aren’t afraid to step in key moments and continue to get better and continue to grow,” Gard said.
After attempting 39 3-pointers and struggling to develop a post presence in the 12-point loss at Creighton (part of the reason why Chicago State started the game in zone defense), the Badgers delivered more balance offensively. UW still went 5-for-19 from 3-point range but scored 34 points in the paint, 12 points from the free throw line and turned a 16-3 edge on the offensive glass into a 14-0 margin in second-chance points.
“Better; in fact we turned down shots because they knew the ball needed to touch the red (paint),” Gard said. “We were a little out of sorts at times, but I think there was a conscious effort to throw the thing inside as much as possible.”
Sophomore guard Fred Sims, Jr had 24 points to lead Chicago State, which shot 35.3 percent from the floor. Head coach Tracy Dildy purposely scheduled the game two days after Creighton thinking the Badgers would be undefeated and tired, giving his team a minute chance at an upset. It backfired.
“They’re huge, and I’m not talking about their length; I’m talking their width,” Dildy said. “They are really true college bodies. You can tell it’s a lot more than eating cheese in this area. There’s some weightlifting going on this area. It was almost physically impossible to match-up with guys.”