Iverson happy to contribute
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Before he took the court with his Wisconsin teammates Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, Khalil Iverson had to handle family matters.
The sophomore, who missed UW's final two games in the Big Ten tournament because he flew home to mourn the shooting deaths of two cousins, had a heart-to-heart chat via text message with his brother Kevin.
“He said just go out there and have fun, don't try to think too much about what's been going on at home,” said Iverson, who did that by contributing 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists in eighth-seeded UW's 84-74 victory over ninth-seeded Virginia Tech. “I just went out and played. Did OK. We got the 'W.'”
UW's players and coaches appeared in awe.
“It is hard to put into words,” UW associate head coach Lamont Paris said. “He was so aggressive. He attacked the rim. He just made some great athletic plays. It was exactly what we needed—a shot in the arm. We were thankful.
“And I literally could not be any happier for him. It is what he needs personally. It was good to see.”
Iverson entered the night shooting just 54.8 percent from the free-throw line. He hit 7 of 10 attempts against the Hokies.
One day earlier, Iverson was asked if he could predict how well he would be able to play less than a week after losing his two cousins.
The soft-spoken Iverson wasn't sure. He acknowledged after the victory over Virginia Tech the basketball floor has become his sanctuary.
“Basketball helps clear my mind,” he said. “Being around these guys helps clear my mind. We're having fun.”
Next up is a second-round matchup with No. 1-seeded Villanova (32-3), at approximately 1:40 p.m. (Central) today. Can Iverson rise up for UW once more? After Iverson's performance Thursday night, would anyone be surprised if he authored a winning encore?
Free-throw efficiency: UW entered the first-round game shooting just 64.4 percent from the free-throw line. In the previous eight games, UW shot 75 percent, 66.7 percent, 54.5 percent, 37.5 percent, 35.7 percent, 52.0, percent, 66.7 percent and 56.8 percent.
The Badgers were a combined 77 of 141 during that stretch (54.6 percent).
UW was 4 of 9 against the Hokies after Ethan Happ missed two attempts with 14 minutes 45 seconds left in the game.
UW closed the game by making 15 of 16 attempts. Nigel Hayes hit 8 of 8; Iverson made 3 of 4; and Bronson Koenig and Jordan Hill each made 2 of 2.
“You've got to make them in March to stay alive,” senior guard Zak Showalter said. “It was good to see guys knocking them down. Hopefully, we keep that going.”
Dreadful defense: UW too often allowed Virginia Tech players to get into the lane for high-percentage shots of dump-offs to a teammate. As a result, the Hokies shot 46.9 percent, drew 22 fouls and hit 21 of 26 free-throw attempts.
UW must be stingier against Villanova, which boasts five players shooting at least 35 percent from 3-point range.
“Our defense, it wasn't good at all,” Hayes said. “We didn't do well guarding their ball screens at all. We gave up a lot of paint touches, a lot of and-ones and finishes. We fouled 3-point shooters…which is definitely a cardinal sin in any program. We didn't do well with dribble penetration, which again was one of the key things we wanted to take care of.”
Overtime: UW has won 12 NCAA Tournament games since 2014, the highest total in the nation.
UW turned the ball over eight times against Virginia Tech. The Badgers have had 10 or fewer turnovers in seven of their last nine games.
The Badgers have faced a No. 1-seeded team 10 times in the tournament. UW is 3-7 in those games.
Villanova coach Jay Wright said Happ has the best hands and feet of any post player the Wildcats have seen this season. Told of that compliment, Happ said: "He knows basketball. I would like to relay the message that he's got the best suits."