As the Wisconsin men’s basketball team (6-10 Big Ten, 13-16 overall) prepares for its final road trip of the season, Khalil Iverson finds his role perpetually growing. Once a wide-eyed freshman pitching in just 2.6 points per game, Iverson’s seen his contribution more than triple as the Badgers continue to search for production on both ends of the court.
The Badgers head to Evanston, Ill., Thursday evening to meet Northwestern (6-10, 15-14) for the second time this season. And for the nth time this year, Iverson will match up with the most dynamic backcourt player on the court.
The junior forward’s playing time has doubled since last season, and he’s drawn the defensive assignments that had been placed at the feet of Nigel Hayes until his graduation. Redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ said that, in replacing Hayes, Iverson hasn’t lost a step.
Hayes was often tasked with zeroing in on one player defensively and shutting them down. Iverson switched onto Purdue guard Carsen Edwards in the second half after Edwards torched the Badgers for 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting from downtown and limited him to 1-of-4 from deep and 4-of-11 overall. Four days later, he kept Minnesota’s Nate Mason to 11 points on 18 shot attempts, Mason’s lowest scoring output on at least 15 shots ever.
“I think it's kind of like what Nigel did defensively for us in the past where he would take one of their better players and ... limit their touches and how many good looks they get,” Happ said after UW’s victory over the Golden Gophers. “I think he's really done that for us.”
Thursday, Iverson will stand across from Scottie Lindsey, who has struggled at times but remains an ever-present threat from anywhere on the court. Over his last seven games, Lindsey has hit a scorched-earth 45.5 percent of his shots from 3-point range — astonishingly more than 10 percent than his rate on 2-point attempts.
Limiting Lindsey’s efficiency will be key for UW to extend its conference win streak to three, its longest since Iverson took the spot of a graduated Hayes. The Wildcats have won just 1-of-6 games in which Lindsey scores single-digit points, and has yet to record a victory when he makes less than a third of his shots.
On offense, Iverson has found a similar uptick in his role in the wake of injuries to sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice and freshman guard Kobe King. Though his scoring production has remained relatively consistent, Iverson’s role as a ball handler — alongside Happ — has been dramatically expanded.
“As each game goes on and they have more experience being point guards … those guys are more comfortable bringing it up,” assistant coach Dean Oliver said. “We can run more things. When the injuries first happened it was hard for those guys to step in … all those things are getting easier.”
So as the end of the season nears, it’s comforting for the Badgers to have such a reliable defender on the court who can also contribute a steady hand offensively. UW has desperately missed Hayes this year — but Iverson has mitigated the damage.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.