Illinois and Wisconsin combined to make 64 of 77 free throws with the Badgers hitting 34, an indication of how physical the game was played according to Illini coach Bruce Weber.
"It got a little out of hand. It was a tough game. They played pretty well. They made a 12-2 run to start the second half, and that was the difference in the game. Now you're catching up."
The Illini shot only 30.2% for the game. They hit only 3 of their first 15 shots from the field, and they were 1 for 8 to begin the second half. This was in stark contrast to the first matchup in the Assembly Hall. In that outing, the Illini hit 16 of 24 first half shots. Saturday they made only 16 field goals the whole game.
"It's a tough place to play," Weber acknowledged. "We didn't shoot well; we didn't shoot well all week. When teams defend us, you've got to work harder to get open shots. They took away our ball screens, and now we have to find other ways to score."
Wisconsin burst out to a 12-5 lead to begin the game. The Illini battled back, a Brandon Paul 3 giving them a lead before Tim Jarmusz followed with a three to give the Badgers a two point halftime lead, 27-25.
UW then hit the first 10 points in the second stanza and never looked back. From around the nine minute mark of the second half on, only five shots were made from the field by both teams combined. A series of foul calls was magnified the last few minutes when the Illini needed to foul to try getting back into the game. It was not to be since the Badgers are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country.
The Illini cut into the lead a couple of times but couldn't get over the hump.
"I told them they'd have one chance to win it. We cut it to six. Demetri (McCamey) hit D.J. (Richardson) for a layup. He got it blocked, (Mike) Tisdale gets a couple putbacks that don't go in. Now it goes to the other end. Another time we cut it to 8, and Mike Davis had a little floater down the lane that didn't go."
McCamey led the Illini with 23 points, but he hit only 3 of 13 shots from the field. For much of the second half, the Illini offense consisted of McCamey driving and getting fouled. He ended with 17 of 21 free throws. He also had five rebounds and five assists.
Paul was the only other Illini in double figures, hitting 4 of 10 shots and 6 of 7 free throws for 15 points in possibly his best game of the year. Tisdale sat out 10 minutes of the first half with foul problems, ending with 8 points and 9 rebounds. Bill Cole and Tyler Griffey scored 7 points each. Weber was pleased with Paul's play.
"He's starting to play better and better. If he'll just go to the basket, get assists. He just gets carried away sometimes with threes. If I can convince him of that, he's a good player. If D.J.'s not cooking, we've got to get somebody doing it. Hopefully Brandon can be the guy."
Richardson is in a slump reminiscent of a stretch last year according to Weber.
"He's got to work harder to get open. We didn't get many open shots. Some of it's we're not moving, some of it's their defense. He had a stretch like this last year; he went 0 for 16 over three games. We're probably getting close to that. The last time he scored was Northwestern."
Davis had a double-double against the Badgers in Champaign, but he hit only 6 today to go with 1 rebound. Weber stated the obvious.
"Mike Davis has got to play. He can't play 27 minutes and have only 1 rebound."
On a bright note, Griffey helped the team today. His confidence still isn't where it should be, but Weber noted his play afterward.
"Tyler got a few minutes. We've got to get Tyler shooting the ball well. That's his strength. He got three rebounds, hit some free throws, he got some offensive rebounds."
Freshman center Meyers Leonard was more aggressive on the glass, grabbing four boards in 12 minutes. Little by little, Weber believes Leonard is coming along.
"He's learning. He got some rebounds at least. He's got to learn to get a lower base and hold people up. He's a strong kid, but he stands straight up. Little guys can go around. He had a couple turnovers, but it was good for him."
Freshman Jereme Richmond did not play. He returned to his home in Waukegan and missed two days of practice. Weber says he should be available for action when the Illini take on Michigan State Tuesday.
"We can use him," Weber reminds. "He gives us some versatility. He'll be back with us and hopefully help us on Tuesday."
The Illini's rugged Big 10 schedule gets no easier. Michigan State invades the Assembly Hall Tuesday. The Spartans defeated Northwestern in overtime Saturday.
"They're on a high note, we're on a low note. And then Ohio State could come in #1. We'll see. It's a huge week. Every week is huge. We've got to play good. We've got to get some guys to make some shots."