Wisconsin 57, Illinois 43
CHAMPAIGN -- Illinois (13-10, 3-7) lost another chance to put a quality win on their resume, as they fell 57-43 to No. 10 Wisconsin and dropped to 0-5 against ranked teams this season.
The Illini shot just 27.6 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three, as they scored their fewest points since Feb. 15, 2014 in a 48-39 loss at home against Ohio State.
Wisconsin stormed out to a 16-2 lead by hitting seven of their first nine shots. It took just three minutes and 10 seconds for the Badgers to be up 9-0 with the Illini needing a timeout. Slow starts against good teams are nothing new.
Illinois finally got going a little bit after the first five minutes. Jalen Coleman-Lands hit a three to make it 19-10. But Wisconsin responded with a 7-0 run to extend their lead out to 16.
The Badgers made just three of their 17 shots in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Yet, their lead only went from 16 down to 13 -- as Wisconsin went into the locker room up 33-20.
After Ethan Happ got a layup on Wisconsin's first possession of the second half, Illinois went on a 6-0 run to cut it to 35-26 with 16:11 remaining. The Illini later went on a 5-0 run that got them within six at the 10:55 mark following a basket by Jaylon Tate.
The place was going nuts, and it would have erupted had Malcolm Hill knocked down a wide-open look from the corner that could have made it a three-point game. But he left it short. And Zak Showalter hit a trey at the other end to extend the Badgers' lead out to nine.
And following Tate's make, Illinois went more than six minutes without one. By the time they made their next shot, the Illini were down 12 with 4:36 to go. It didn't get any closer than that.
Hill and Maverick Morgan led the Illini with 10 points each. Happ, an Illinois native, led the Badgers with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
John Groce is now 0-8 against Wisconsin, and the Illini program has lost its last 11 against them.
What it means
Illinois couldn't take advantage of their best remaining chance for a marquee win. And those are important when it comes to March. This tourney-hopeful team has lost by double digits in each of their five games against ranked teams. They've lost seven of their first 10 Big Ten games. Groce's team is not in a good spot, and the pressure cooker keeps getting turned up.
What went right
The Illini defense tightened up in the middle of the game. And they benefited from Wisconsin not playing great. For a 20-minute stretch between the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 10 of the second half, the Badgers scored only 13 points. To Illinois' credit, they pressured the ball and didn't give up many open shots during that stretch. Their defense gave their offense a chance to win the game, which hasn't been the case in most of their opportunities against good teams.
After getting beat up early, Illinois played with energy and the fight they needed out of the locker room in the second half. It put them right there.
What went wrong
Wisconsin made five shots in the first half against Rutgers on Saturday. It took them four minutes and 12 seconds to do that against Illinois on Tuesday. The Badgers hit 10 of their first 14 shots, while going 4-of-5 from deep. The Illini were quickly in a 16-2 hole, which they can't afford versus arguably the best team in the Big Ten.
Missed opportunities. When Wisconsin's offense sputtered at the end of the first half, Illinois couldn't capitalize. When Hill could have cut it to three with 10:08 left in the game, he missed a wide-open look. And the Badgers hit a three at the other end. That was the game.
19 offensive rebounds. That kills your defense. Wisconsin had nine in the first half, and five of those came on the last possession of the half. That led to a putback by Vitto Brown. And Illinois gave up more in the second half. Wisconsin missed 35 shots on the game. They got back 19. Illinois got 16. That's a terrible percentage.
The three-point line. Wisconsin came into this game allowing opponents to shoot higher than 40 percent from deep in Big Ten play. But Illinois was just 5-of-21 from three on the game, and 1-of-11 in the second half when it really counted. And it wasn't for a lack of open looks. Meanwhile, Illinois' offense was too soft on shooters early in the first half -- which helped the Badgers get out to a comfortable lead.
Illinois' guard play. Te'Jon Lucas, Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate were not good enough. Coleman-Lands hit two threes, but he was just 2-of-9 from the field. Lucas was scoreless in 26 minutes, and he had two turnovers and only one assist. Abrams had four points and no assists. Tate had two points in 11 minutes.
Illinois will host Minnesota (15-7, 3-6) on Saturday at the State Farm Center. The Gophers started the season 15-2 with a 3-1 start in the Big Ten, including nice road wins at Purdue and Northwestern. But Minnesota has lost five straight games since then. One of those losses was an overtime defeat by two points at home against Wisconsin. The Illini have won their last three against Minnesota in the series. But the Gophers will be a challenge for Illinois -- aside from their hunger for a win. Minnesota is 18th in the country in defensive efficiency. Illinois State transfer Reggie Lynch has made a big impact on the interior with more than three blocks per game.