Brad Davison vs. UNI

Freshman guard Brad Davison had five points and two assists but showed some defensive chops with three steals and a rebound.

DAVID STLUKA/UW Athletic Communications

One of the things Greg Gard has learned from a pair of dress rehearsals is that his University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team has the potential to be pretty good defensively this season.

Not only do the Badgers have the right pieces to make it hard for opponents to score, they also have shown something else that comes in handy on that end of the court: desire.

UW went into lockdown mode during two long stretches Wednesday night at the Kohl Center, paving the way for a 69-38 victory over Northern Iowa in an exhibition game that benefited areas affected by recent hurricanes.

Four days after Missouri shot 29.8 percent in a 74-66 loss to the Badgers in a closed scrimmage, Northern Iowa had a difficult time putting the ball in the basket against UW as well. The Panthers shot 32.6 percent while committing 16 turnovers in a low-possession game.

“They’ve bought into the importance of it,” Gard said. “We’ve definitely stressed it enough and it’s been a foundation of this program for a long time and will continue to be.”

UW freshman guard Kobe King scored a game-high 15 points to lead a balanced attack. Juniors Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson had nine points apiece for the Badgers.

Happ is the only returning starter from a team that won 27 games last season while finishing No. 9 in adjusted defensive efficiency in the Pomeroy ratings. One of the things that has stood out to him is how much the young players around him appear to value the importance of playing solid defense.

“That’s been special just to have guys get it so quickly,” Happ said. “I think that’s a credit to our coaching staff to get the right players in the system, where they know to get on the floor you have to play defense first and foremost. So that’s a credit to the coaching staff, but also to the young guys that have come in and excelled at it right away.”

Gard has shown a willingness to use aggressive double-teams in the post to make things uncomfortable for opposing post players. UW hasn’t perfected that tactic and still gets caught in bad rotations at times, but it’s clear that Gard wants it to be a more frequent weapon this season than it has been in the past.

Another thing that stood out against the Panthers was how Gard’s ability to get creative with his lineup can lead to good things on defense. Three wings — King, Iverson and redshirt freshman Aleem Ford — can defend multiple positions, allowing UW to switch in ball-screen situations without getting caught in mismatches.

“Guys can play multiple positions,” Gard said, “and it makes us defensively much more mobile.”

Former Germantown standout Juwan McCloud scored 10 points to lead Northern Iowa, but all of that scoring came in the opening 6 minutes, 41 seconds of the game. Once UW shut down McCloud’s dribble penetration, the Panthers struggled to score.

After McCloud scored on a stepback jumper to put the Badgers in a 10-2 hole, the Panthers went their next 10 trips down the floor without scoring. Northern Iowa turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions during that stretch.

The Badgers, meanwhile, went on a 17-0 run that included seven points from King and 3-pointers by Iverson and freshman guard Brad Davison.

“I think we have to fall back on our defense when stuff isn’t falling for us, especially to start off that game it wasn’t going well for us on either end of the floor,” Happ said “I think once we started to lock in defensively, that kind of gave us momentum on the other end of the floor.”

Northern Iowa used a quick spurt after halftime to pull within 35-25, but UW’s defense tightened up once again.

The Panthers went 10 consecutive possessions without scoring and a whopping 14:35 without a field goal, allowing UW to build a 34-point cushion with a 27-3 run.

“I thought there was a stretch in the second half we were really good,” Gard said “Just looking down, there were no gaps at all. They tried to dribble-drive on us and they couldn’t at all. There was no room for them to go and we contested most of the shots. They’re learning.”

Making sweeping judgments after an exhibition game is dangerous, particularly since Northern Iowa was playing without junior guard Wyatt Lohaus (knee, toe) and is still in the process of installing all of its offensive schemes.

But Panthers coach Ben Jacobson walked away from the game impressed by UW’s work on the defensive end of the floor.

“You just aren’t going to get anything easy,” Jacobson said. “Early on, Juwan was able to get by them when they did switch the ball screen, he was able to make some plays against a bigger guy. But as they sorted that out defensively, it got back to where it’s just hard to find easy shots.

“They don’t stretch themselves out, they don’t take themselves out of position to guard. When you get in around the basket, they don’t foul. As we’ve seen year after year after year, they do such a good job of that.”

NORTHERN IOWA

min fg-a ft-a rb pf a to pts

McCloud 24 5-10 0-0 4 4 0 4 10

Pickford 23 3-6 1-3 1 1 0 1 8

Carlson 23 1-6 0-0 2 0 1 2 3

Koch 19 1-2 1-2 4 1 2 1 3

Brown 23 1-3 0-0 2 1 0 1 2

Phyfe 19 2-5 0-4 4 4 0 3 5

McDermott 14 1-3 0-0 1 1 0 1 3

Lohaus 11 0-3 2-2 4 0 0 0 2

Wentzien 9 1-3 0-0 0 1 2 1 2

Halderman 15 0-4 0-1 3 1 0 0 0

McDonnell 11 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 2 0

Friedman 9 0-0 0-0 3 0 1 0 0

Dahl 0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0

Totals 200 15-46 4-12 30 14 14 16 38

WISCONSIN

min fg-a ft-a rb pf a to pts

Iverson 21 3-4 1-2 4 1 2 1 9

Happ 19 4-10 0-0 7 2 2 1 9

Pritzl 21 2-4 0-0 2 2 1 2 5

Trice 21 2-4 0-0 3 1 0 0 4

Van Vliet 15 1-4 0-0 4 1 2 1 2

King 16 5-8 4-4 0 0 0 0 15

Ford 16 2-4 0-0 0 0 0 0 6

Reuvers 10 3-6 0-0 2 2 0 1 6

Davison 19 2-4 0-0 1 1 2 1 5

Thomas 12 2-4 0-0 4 3 1 1 5

Illikainen 8 1-2 0-0 2 3 0 3 3

Moesch 7 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 0 0

Schlundt 6 0-1 0-0 2 0 1 0 0

McGrory 5 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 0 0

Ferris 2 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0

Ballard 2 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0

Totals 200 27-56 5-6 34 17 11 11 69

Team totals include rebounds and turnovers

Northern Iowa 18 20 — 38 Wisconsin 35 34 — 69

3-pointers — NI 4-18 (Phyfe 1-2, McDermott 1-2, Pickford 1-3, Carlson 1-3, McDonnell 0-1, Halderman 0-1, Wentzien 0-1, McCloud 0-2, Lohaus 0-2), W 10-24 (Iverson 2-2, Ford 2-4, Davison 1-1, Thomas 1-1, Happ 1-2, Illikainen 1-2, Pritzl 1-3, King 1-3, Van Vliet 0-1, Ferris 0-1, Trice 0-2, Reuvers 0-2). Blocks — NI 0, W 2 (Iverson, Ford). Field goal percentage — NI .326, W .482. Free throw percentage — NI .333, W .833. Att. — 11,000.

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Jim Polzin covers Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball for the Wisconsin State Journal.