MADISON, Wisc. — Wisconsin has a way of capitalizing on the smallest mistake and turning those mistakes into points and into wins.
When the Badgers needed a bucket down the stretch Monday night at the Kohl Center against Illinois, they got it on the way to a 64-58 win. The loss snapped Illinois' four-game win streak and is the 15th straight loss to Wisconsin.
With Wisconsin clinging to a two point lead, 60-58, Illinois (10-16, 6-9) forced Wisconsin's Brevin Pritzl into a difficult 3-pointer from in front of the Wisconsin bench that went off the rim and missed. Badgers froward Nate Reuvers got his arm over the top of Giorgi Bezhanishvili just enough to tip the ball in to extend the lead to four points with 27 seconds left.
The bucket effectively ended the night for the Illini, who turned it over after the timeout that allowed the Badgers (18-8, 10-5) to seal the win from the free-throw line.
“Wisconsin is a good team," said Illinois senior guard Aaron Jordan, who had 12 points. "Down the stretch we made mistakes that they capitalized on. Coming in here and playing them at home, that’s something you can’t do. They made the plays they needed to do to win."
Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore guard Trent Frazier combined to shoot 7-of-25 from the field for 21 combined points. Dosunmu scored 13 points, including six straight in the second half that tied the game at 52-all with 4:06 left. He converted a three-point play that was spurred by a steal from Bezhanishvili. That came one possession after a 3-pointer from Dosunmu to draw within two.
Illinois shot 37.5 percent from the field and was 3-of-11 (31.6 percent) on 3-pointers.
“I felt we got whatever shot we wanted down the stretch," Dosunmu said. "We’ve just got to make them. Of course, kudos to their defense. They’re a well-coached team and a disciplined team, but I felt like we got the shots we wanted."
Meanwhile, Wisconsin's Brad Davison converted down the stretch. He scored 7 of Wisconsin's last 13 points on his way to a game-high 18 points. Kahlil Iverson scored 16 for the Badgers and used his 6-foot-5, 217-pound frame to make life difficult on the Illinois guards.
“Just one of those nights," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of his team's shooting. "They’re really good. Let’s give them their credit. They’re a team that’s experienced and they’ve got good players. They made things difficult. They put Iverson on Ayo. He wasn’t just very good on the offensive end and on the glass, he was very good on the defensive end. It’s a big, strong body and a really good athlete."
The loss comes just four days after Illinois overcame a tough offensive night to get a win on the road at Ohio State. Underwood later called the game a "backyard brawl." But slowing the game down fits into Wisconsin's deliberate style. There's a rich history for that style of play in Madison. The Badgers don't get sped up often.
You have free articles remaining.
“Find a team that gets out of Wisconsin’s pace and I’ll find you somebody that must be really talented," Underwood said. "It’s easier said than done. They’re well-schooled. There is 30 years of history here and that culture is ingrained. They’re going to be patient and they’re going to do what they do."
Wisconsin's win comes just more than three weeks after the Badgers went into Champaign and handed the Illini a loss. Reuvers was big in that game, too, scoring 22 points and securing 10 rebounds. In those two games, Illinois has held star forward Ethan Happ in check while the players around him rose to the occasion to beat the Illini.
Happ scored six points and had three rebounds on Monday night. The Illini held him to nine points, nine rebounds and six assists in the first meeting.
“That’s what our defense does," Jordan said. "It’s a mind game. Just knowing you have to go up against that pressure one night out of the year, that messes with people a lot. We did a good job on him, but there are other people out there, too."
The ability for other players to rise to the occasion to pick up for Happ, who sat down the stretch, is why Wisconsin is nationally ranked. Reuvers had nine points, but had the big put back. D'Mitrik Trice had seven points, but hit a difficult mid-range with 1:36 left to atone for an otherwise tough shooting night (2-of-9).
“That’s why they're one of the top teams in the country," Underwood said. "There’s no doubt about that. They’re a lot more than Ethan Happ. I think we’re the one team that’s a little different in Big Ten play in we’re going to get up and get after you earlier. Maybe Ethan doesn’t get to his spots as easy. I don’t know.
“Their other guys did an unbelievable job of picking him up and making his night livable because they won. Six points, you feel good about that, but it was a team effort and those guys did a great job."
Illinois hosts Penn State at 11 a.m. Saturday: An opportunity to get a win against one of the worst teams in the conference. Despite the loss, the players and coaches still carried a sense of confidence and determination.
There was no folding when Wisconsin opened a six-point lead down the stretch.
“I think we have arrived," Underwood said. "I think we’ve proven that. I believe in these guys 100 percent. I know one thing — I sure as heck wouldn’t want to play Illinois."