After losing back-to-back overtime games for the first time in school history, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team hits the road Saturday to take on Illinois at Assembly Hall.
The Badgers (12-6, 3-3 Big Ten) — who haven’t lost four straight Big Ten games since the 1998 season — will have a tough matchup against the No. 24 Illini (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten), who boast four players that score in double digits.
“They deliver well, they’ve got guys that shoot it pretty well,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “The only thing you can do to take them out of that rhythm is to make them work harder and take them out of their comfort zone just like we do against every team.”
Ryan’s squad has not had much experience with losing streaks. When the Badgers lost to Minnesota on Jan. 15, it was their first time losing consecutive games since the 2006-07 season.
“We have to keep getting better and working hard every day,” junior guard Jason Bohannon said. “We’ve been in all those games, but just weren’t able to pull them out. With tough games, you try to learn from them and we’re learning every day.”
“We know we’re in a hole right now,” sophomore forward Jon Leuer said. “We just need to work hard, keep preparing every day and keep improving.”
One of the issues plaguing Wisconsin in its past three losses has been its inability to withstand pressure defenses. Against Minnesota, the Badgers turned the ball over 18 times, six of which were courtesy of junior point guard Trevon Hughes.
In their match against Iowa, Hughes turned the ball over three more times before being lifted in favor of freshman guard Jordan Taylor, who didn’t commit a single one. Nevertheless, Ryan believes Hughes will play up to par against Illinois.
“He’ll be ready to play,” Ryan said. “He just has to be careful with his decisions and make sure that the game is out there in front of him. … As an artist, if you use too much paint, it ruins the canvas.”
In their past two contests, the Badgers have been in the lead in the waning minutes before surrendering the losses. Against Iowa, Wisconsin led by as many as seven points in the second half.
“It’s really tough to see how close we are and not pull it out,” Bohannon said. “We just need to find a way to get the things done that we need to accomplish and take everything one step at a time.”
While Wisconsin has been struggling over its last few games, the Illini are coming off a big win over Ohio State at Assembly Hall. Following their season trend, Illinois characteristically had four players score in double digits en route to its 67-49 home victory.
“[Assembly Hall] is definitely a hostile environment and the way they’re playing this year, we know it’ll be a tough challenge for us,” Leuer said. “We’re just going to stick to our rules and our principles and hopefully we can get the job done.”
Although Wisconsin is currently struggling, a trip to face Illinois may be exactly what the team needs. The Badgers have defeated the Illini in their last five meetings, including two consecutive wins at Assembly Hall.
“We’re gonna go to practice and we’re going to work,” Ryan said. “Just get ready for what we always do.”
“They’re pretty solid — they shoot it well, they’re very athletic,” Ryan said. “But we were pretty much the one team that gave them trouble. … If you have a good record, then it’s been fairly consistent, and there’s a reason for that.”
With six losses on the season, the Badgers have already surpassed their mark of five losses all of last season. While NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t fading, Bohannon and the rest of the team realize the importance of the upcoming stretch of conference games.
“We have to treat every game like a must-win game, regardless of who we’re playing,” Bohannon said. “The Big Ten is tough this year and every game we have to bring our ‘A’ game if we want to compete.”