There's No Place Like This Home

Illinois travels to the Kohl Center on Wednesday, where Wisconsin has won 91 percent of it's games under Bo Ryan.

CHAMPAIGN – Even the most reckless smack-talking Wisconsin haters know to keep their mouth shut when the Badgers are playing on their home court.

Wisconsin has lost only 18 games at the Kohl Center in 13 seasons under Coach Bo Ryan.

That's certainly impressive, and leaves opposing fans with little room to dish it out when their favorite team goes into Madison.

Worse, most games there aren't even close. Of the 188 wins amassed by Ryan's squads over the years, 139 of them have come by 10 points or more.

So Wisconsin wins nearly 92 percent of the time. And in three-quarters of those, it's a no-contest knockout.

It's consistency and excellence on display.

The fourth-ranked Badgers are 8-0 this season on their turf, with No. 23 Illinois up next.

Illini coach John Groce professed it on Tuesday -- Wisconsin has one heck of an advantage in Madison. His next thought: so what?

"If you're a guy who has a winner's mindset and you're a champion, you love challenges," Groce said. "You love adversity. I think our group has really kind of shouldered that and had a little toughness about it. We understand it's a great challenge and we're looking forward to that challenge."

Last season's trek to Wisconsin didn't go so well for the Illini. The Badgers scored the game's first 14 points and took a 20-point lead into the break. A 74-51 loss came amid a 2-7 start for Illinois in Big Ten play.

Junior guard Tracy Abrams mimicked his coach. He acknowledged the struggle last season. And then went so-what with his next breath. Anything in the past is a lesson learned instead of an indicator for the future.

"Last year we weren't ready to play, so definitely have to be ready come (Wednesday) night and take it to them early," Abrams said.

So what is it that makes the Kohl Center so advantageous for the home team?

It opened in 1998 and holds 17,249. The student section is cleverly named the Grateful Red, so there's that. But none of that differs much from any other Big Ten venue, as forward Nnanna Egwu points out.

"Pretty much every road game in the Big Ten is pretty tough," he said.

Abrams, who is 0-3 in Madison, has noticed a subtle difference.

"It's cold," he said.

The Badgers also use the Kohl Center for hockey games and while the ice is replaced with a court, sometimes the chilly temp remains. The Illini played in similar conditions earlier this year in St. Louis, defeating Missouri in the Scottrade Center, home of the NHL's Blues.

"I think we got some experience playing Missouri in that arena, just have to be mentally tough," Abrams said.

And while we're talking about trends, let's put another one out there. It's been 25 years since the Illini took down a top-five team on the road. You probably remember it well -- it was when Nick Anderson took care of Indiana in 1989 with his famous 35-footer at the buzzer.

All of these talking points matter in some fashion or another. But no player on the roster was alive when Anderson hit that shot. And of the 188 Wisconsin wins at home under Ryan, only three of them directly involved any current Illini members.

"For me personally, once the ball gets tipped it's just a regular game," Egwu said. "It's just trying to defend them and trying to find a way to win."


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