Illinois Preparing For Wisconsin Challenge

There's no good time to play the Wisconsin Badgers. They have been on an unprecedented run of success ever since Bo Ryan became head coach. But they have lost three straight games, and their backs are to the wall. Illinois knows it will have its hands full Saturday afternoon at the Assembly Hall.

Two of Wisconsin's three straight losses have been overtime games, making their frustrations mount. But Illinois coach Bruce Weber doesn't buy the notion the Badgers are in a weakened position.

"Obviously, they've struggled and hit a tough stretch. You would think they would come in fighting to see if they can get a win. We're gonna have to match that intensity. I hope it helps our guys getting ready for the game."

Wisconsin may not be quite as strong as the recent past, but they have some talented guys with experience. Both guard Trevon Hughes (6'-0", 193) and forward Marcus Landry (6'-7", 230) are potential All-Big 10 caliber performers, and they have stung the Illini repeatedly in past games. Hughes has been in a slump recently and was benched last game, but Weber expects him to play well Saturday.

"My first thought is that he will have a huge game here on Saturday. It scares me, to be honest, that he hasn't played well lately. He has played well against us. Last year, he was the one guy Chester (Frazier) didn't seem able to control. So it's a big challenge.

"They don't have quite the weapons they had last year offensively. So maybe there's a little more pressure on him, and maybe you can lock in on him a little more. But he's still a very good player. He's a guy that can make a difference on both ends of the court with his defense, quickness and steals. And he can get hot."

Landry is a moble power forward who leads the Badgers with 13.1 points a game.

"Landry can go in with his back to the basket," Weber describes. "He doesn't have quite the size, but he does have the body and athleticism. He's really improved his perimeter shot."

Wisconsin's most versatile player may be senior Joe Krabbenhoft (6'-7", 219). Joe plays on the wing and averages 8.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists a game. And he may be their best defender.

Jason Bohannon (6'-2", 198) is a sharpshooting junior who can get hot if unguarded. And he drove effectively against the Illini last year. He is third on the team with an 11.4 scoring average, less than one point behind Hughes.

The Badgers are not as certain in the post. They have found no one to replace the graduated Brian Butch. Sophomore Jon Leuer (6'-10", 225) is fourth on the team in scoring at 9.8 a game, but he doesn't usually start. The slender Leuer is a definite threat from long range but lacks the muscle to post up well.

Other Badgers expected to see playing time include freshman Jordan Taylor (6'-1", 190); sophomore Tim Jarmusz (6'-6", 210); senior Kevin Gullikson (6'-7", 235), sophomore Keaton Nankivil (6'-8", 240); senior Morris Cain (6'-5", 210); and freshman Rob Wilson (6'-4", 175).

Bo Ryan's system is the key to the Badgers' success. Weber is glowing in his praise, especially after losing to them six times in a row.

"I'm not sure there's ever a good time to play Bo's teams. Obviously, they've had pretty good success against us. They have a team that is always disciplined, they have a good system, they make you guard, they guard you, they make you earn baskets, they limit your transition.

"We have to take care of the basketball. They've turned it over more than in the past, and I'm sure that's bothered Bo. We have to attack them and get some easy baskets."

Illinois senior guard Trent Meacham is looking for his first win against the Badgers.

"They're so solid. They don't make mistakes. They have a lot of guys they can interchange outside and inside. We really struggle with them. I haven't beaten them since I've been here. Last year we competed with a lot of teams, but we never competed with Wisconsin. They handled us pretty easily last year. They're tough."

Mike Tisdale agrees.

"They don't lose too many games in a row, so they're gonna be ready to play. We have to be focused. Any time a team loses, they're backed into a corner a little more."

Weber is emphasizing the positives to his players, hoping to keep them confident and motivated for the long, grueling Big 10 race. If they play their best, they can win. But it won't be easy.

"They will have a little extra motivation, there's no doubt. They're fighting for their lives. But I hope our guys realize this is a chance to get a little more separation from the other teams."

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