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Sunday, April 21, 2024

After two strong seasons in Madison, the Badgers will be looking to junior forward Nate Reuvers to carry a larger portion of the scoring load in Ethan Happ's absence. 

Badgers overcome turnovers, foul trouble to capture key road win over Illinois

Wisconsin triumphed 72-60 over Illinois Wednesday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign to improve to 5-3 in Big Ten play (13-6 overall) — its 14th consecutive win against the Illini (1-7 Big Ten, 5-14 overall).  Sophomore forward Nate Reuvers led the way with a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds. Illinois seven-footer Giorgi Bezhanishvilli paced the Illini with 20. 

Key takeaways from the victory:

Badgers overcome turnovers

Following an emotional victory over then-undefeated Michigan Saturday, Wisconsin was poised for a letdown. Early mental errors proved an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one. The Badgers entered the matchup as one of the country’s most turnover-averse teams, averaging only 9.7 per game. 

The Illini countered that with an energetic game plan that pressured Wisconsin’s ball handlers, and forced five turnovers on the Badgers' first eight possessions, undermining a torrid start from the field. Wisconsin committed 10 turnovers in the first half alone, finishing with 17.

Nonetheless, the Badgers were able to overcome their mistakes, outshooting the Illini by a wide margin.  They converted 24 of 47 shots from the field, and hit half of their 14 three-point attempts. Illinois only shot 36 percent, including an unsightly four of 21 from beyond the arc.

Fouls in second half don’t doom UW

The officiating crew blew their whistles liberally in the second half. Wisconsin was called for nine fouls in the first five minutes and 15 seconds of play in the period, and hit double digits with 13 minutes and 34 seconds to go in the game. Illinois, too, put the Badgers in the bonus with over eight minutes to play. Despite all the fouls, however, Wisconsin kept Illinois at arm’s length the entire half, never relinquishing the lead after intermission. 

Senior forward Ethan Happ had several controversial calls go against him in the half, giving head coach Greg Gard no choice but to take him out. He reached his fourth foul with more than nine minutes left to play on a hook-and-hold flagrant call. In his absence, Reuvers stepped up and took advantage of Illinois’ smaller players. 

Wisconsin also found its rhythm from the line, a pleasant surprise for a fan base weary of inconsistency. The Badgers went 17 for 21 from the line, their best performance from the charity stripe since the season opener against Coppin State. Happ, who entered the game under 50 percent for the year, only attempted four shots from the charity stripe, converting three of them. 

Reuvers is Badgers’ right hand man

While Happ has been superb all season, the Badgers have often struggled to support their senior center with a reliable second option. 19 games into the season, that second scorer is coming into focus, and it’s Reuvers. In a coming-out party of sorts, Reuvers led the Badgers in scoring with a career-high 22 before exiting late with a wrist injury. 

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Reuvers’ points were made all the more important by Happ’s struggles in the game, as he finished under double figures for the first time in 43 games and spent much of the game sidelined due to foul trouble. Reuvers added 10 rebounds and a block, and showed that Wisconsin can still win when Happ is not at his best.

Iverson bounces back

After essentially falling out of the rotation against Maryland and Michigan, senior forward Khalil Iverson responded in a big way against Illinois, scoring a season-high 11 points on five of seven shooting. The senior finished well inside and also posted seven rebounds, at least temporarily quieting calls for Kobe King to start. 

After playing 31 minutes against Michigan, King finished with zero points versus Illinois and was buried on the bench after two turnovers. King’s performance may well have been a fluke, but Iverson showed Wednesday that he won’t cede playing time easily.

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