No. 4 Wisconsin picked up offensively Wednesday night where it left off on Sunday against Iowa, but it was the defensive effort in the first 20 minutes that buried No. 23 Illinois before it had a chance to fight back.
The top-25 conference battle started off promising enough for Illinois with its two leading scorers Rayvonte Rice — the leading scorer in the Big Ten with 18.7 points per game coming in — and Joseph Bertrand both picking up five points in the early goings of the game.
Little did Illinois coach John Groce and his Illini squad know that after Bertrand hit a jumper with 14:16 left in the first half it would be more than six minutes until they would add to their point total again.
Illinois would not score again until 7:56 was left showing in the first half. By then Wisconsin had racked up a 33-10 lead.
“I thought the game was clearly decided during that 20-0 run, and the difference in the game, once again, was the 2-point field goal percentage, our inability to convert those and our inability to defend those,” Groce said. “At the end of the day, that was the difference.”
Wisconsin’s defense held Illinois to just 27 percent shooting (10-37) in the first half — 28 percent from two-point range — and it took just over 14 minutes before someone other than Rice or Bertrand found the scoring column for the Illini.
The Badgers’ defensive effort in the first half would stifle the Illini to just 25 points, their lowest total in the first 20 minutes all season.
“I thought we did what we wanted to do defensively and then they made some adjustments and they hit the glass really hard and got a lot of second-chance opportunities,” Ryan said.
Illinois’ attack would wake up in the second half, scoring 45 points, but still shot below 40 percent from the field hitting 15-42 (35.7 percent) in the closing half.
Struggles on the glass
As good as Wisconsin was defensively the Badgers couldn’t gain control of the glass, allowing Illinois to 25 of its 48 boards off of offensive rebounds compared to Wisconsin’s 5.
“They out-physicaled us on the offensive glass,” Wisconsin sophomore Sam Dekker said. “That’s something we have to take pride in and really check guys out. It’s staple of Wisconsin basketball to be the more physical team and win those battles in the paint. When we don’t win those it’s embarrassing for us because we take a lot of pride in that.”
Some of the Illini’s offensive boards came from missed layups that made for easy grabs, but it still leaves an area of concern for the Badgers in the midst the win.
When a team is clicking like Wisconsin is right now, it is almost refreshing for the team to have an excuse to come back down to earth after its 25-point beating of a top-25 team.
“We kind of look at it in a good way,” Dekker said of Wisconsin’s rebounding. “It’s something that we really have to preach, buckle down and get better at. That’s a point of emphasis coach made after the game. He wasn’t too happy with the way we rebounded on the defensive end. We should expect some rebounding drills coming up here in these next few days.”