CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – Wisconsin built its early season on offense, riding the strongest attack Bo Ryan has put together in his 12-plus seasons with the Badgers.
But in back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Ohio State, hot-shooting Wisconsin went cold.
That changed Tuesday night.
Wisconsin (18-5, 5-5 Big Ten) buried 10 3-pointers on the way to a 75-63 win over Illinois.
“You make shots, you got a chance,” Ryan said simply.
The 3-pointers were the difference, and Sam Dekker had four of them on seven attempts, including a couple of late ones under pressure that kept Illinois (13-10, 2-8) in a hole. The Badgers shot 43.5 percent from 3-point range and 47.8 percent overall.
“You make 10 3s at that percentage – we’ve got to defend better than that,” said Illinois coach John Groce, who particularly credited Dekker and his long-range shots. “A lot of those were at the end of the shot clock with the shot clock running down.”
The loss extended Illinois’ losing streak to eight, starting with a 95-70 blowout to the Badgers in Madison back on Jan. 8.
“We’re trying everything. I’m open to anything and everything,” a frustrated Groce said.
Dekker and Ben Brust scored 16 points apiece. Traevon Jackson and Nigel Hayes had 14 each.
Rayvonte Rice led Illinois with 24 points and nine rebounds.
The 3-pointers changed what had been a game of one- and two-point leads for much of the first half.
Dekker’s last 3-pointer made the score 66-57 with 2:38 to play and gave the Badgers a comfortable edge.
But the Badgers were also effective from the free throw line, and they were efficient in getting there. Wisconsin hit 80.8 percent of their free throws, going 21 for 26.
Jackson, Frank Kaminsky and Josh Gasser gave Wisconsin the edge on the boards. Between them they had 22 of the Badgers’ 31 rebounds.
The only answer for Illinois, short on big men with experience, was Rice. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard leads the Illini in rebounding with 5.8 per game coming in. His nine boards were nice, but Illinois had just 25 on the night.
Since that January loss to Wisconsin, Illinois hasn’t come closer to a win than a pair of six-point losses.
Joseph Bertrand, who finished with 11 points for Illinois, said the Illini can’t seem to get their offense and defense clicking at the same time.
“If we can get both of them going at the same time, I think we’ll be better,” he said.
But the Badgers have struggled since that big win, too, losing five of six before Tuesday and falling out of The Associated Press Top 25.
Ryan said he resorted to desperation to break the slump, playing his team a clip from the movie “Pleasantville” in which a basketball team throws up shot after shot.
“I said, ‘Guys here’s film from my first junior high school team,'” Ryan joked.
But the 3s, Hayes said, were the real catalyst for Dekker and the rest of the Badgers.
“When all the 3’s earlier went in and especially the ones late you could see the glow in Sam. It was like, ‘Yeah, we’re back,'” Hayes said.
The chances for Illinois to end the streak were there but those opportunities slipped away.
Down 49-46 with just over 10 minutes to play, Illinois stopped the Badgers on three straight possessions and couldn’t score on any of them.
Rice clanked a 3-point attempt off the rim on the first, Bertrand settled for a circus shot from under the rim on the second and Jon Ekey turned the ball over to Nigel Hayes on the third.
Brust sank two free throws and the Badgers again had breathing room, 51-46 with 7:56 to play.
Heavy snow fell in Champaign Tuesday night, keeping the sparse crowd quiet much of the night.