And just like that a record that has stood for 100 years is no more.
Entering the game tied with the 1913-14 team for a school-best 15 wins to start the season, No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (16-0) downed the No. 23 Illinois Fighting Illini (13-3) 95-70 Wednesday to become the first team in Wisconsin basketball history to win its first 16 games.
“For the players, what they’ve accomplished they’ve earned,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “They get the credit, they put the sweat on the floor. I’m certainly proud of them.”
While at first it seemed the Badgers might be in for another tightly contested match like they had against Iowa Sunday, it quickly became clear that Wisconsin’s offense would be tough to contain all night long.
With 14:16 left in the first half, Wisconsin went on an extended run — scoring 20 unanswered points over the next six minutes — and never looked back.
Wisconsin built it’s lead in a variety of ways. They shot free throws, made layups and drained three-pointers as six different Badgers contributed points during that span.
By halftime, Wisconsin had doubled Illinois’ point total 50-25 on 16-for-30 shooting, while Illinois struggled shooting 27 percent from the field.
In the second half, Illinois would match the Badgers stride for stride, but the damage had been done and by the game’s final minutes the result was all but determined.
Still, the lopsided score was a puzzling one for Illinois head coach John Groce.
On the night, Illinois converted 78.9 percent of its free throws, outrebounded the Badgers by 13 and grabbed 25 offensive rebounds while Big Ten leading scorer Rayvonte Rice maintained his season averaged adding 19 points.
Groce said after the game that he was mostly pleased with how his team had performed, but the game was ultimately decided by which team could convert two-point field goals.
“If you would have told me before the game, ‘Hey, you’re going to out-rebound them 48-35 and get 25 offensive rebounds of 55 opportunities back, only turn the ball over eight times and defend the three the way we did in the first half,’” Groce said. “I would’ve probably taken that and ran with it and said, ‘Awesome, where do I sign up for that one?’
“At the end of the day, what’s the difference? Two-point field goal efficiency and production. We go 20-for-60 in the 2-point area for 33 percent.”
As has been the case all season long, Wisconsin played yet another unselfish ballgame Wednesday with five players reaching double figures and 10 players getting on the score sheet by the end of the night.
Senior Ben Brust led Wisconsin’s scorers with 18 points as the Badgers responded to a difficult shooting performance Sunday by converting at a 56 percent clip Wednesday.
Moving forward the Badgers have a tough schedule ahead, traveling to Indiana Tuesday before hosting Michigan Jan. 18. Still, while everything has gone as planned so far, Wisconsin know they have a long way to go it their success will continue.
“There was a quote we were talking about, a John Wooden quote, of ‘Don’t get caught up in the praise or criticism,’” freshman forward Nigel Hayes said. “So that is what we are trying to do right now. … We know that there are bigger goals down the road that we want to reach.”