The Illinois basketball team won for the first time in three years and six games over Wisconsin. Bruce Weber was grateful for the win.
"As a staff, we feel a sense of relief. They've had the best end of us the last couple years. You know what you're gonna get when you play Bo's teams. They're always so competitive, they make you earn a victory.
"We told the guys before the game, it doesn't matter if it's pretty, it doesn't matter the score, we've just got to be on the winning end. I guess you wish it would have been a little cleaner at the end, but we found a way to win."
With a sellout crowd offering its exuberant energy, Illinois appeared capable of putting the game away. But that is always difficult against a Bo Ryan coached team.
"A couple times in the game, I thought we had a chance to knock them out, but to their credit they didn't quit. They kept fighting, making plays. (Marcus) Landry, (Joe) Krabbenhoff and (Trevon) Hughes kept them in the game with some big shots, big plays.
"They were quiet the day before the game. That kind of surprised me because they're usually giddy. I think that's how you've got to be against Wisconsin. They beat you when you have emotional highs and lows. You have to match their discipline and mental toughness. In the long haul, I think we were able to do that. We used the home court.
Illinois forward Mike Davis agreed about the crowd.
"The crowd was the 6th man today. They were loud the whole game, and they were a big help. They pumped us up. I hope they're like that every game for the rest of the season."
Demetri McCamey was the offensive star for the Illini. He scored 25 points including 11 of 13 free throws. He also had 7 assists and four rebounds while having only 2 turnovers. He was especially effective driving to the rim and either getting shots or dishing off to open teammates.
"They put Krabbenhoff on me, and I told my teammates I thought I could beat him off the dribble. So Coach gave me the ball and told me to go to work. We had good ball movement also."
Weber was more detailed in describing McCamey's recent improvement.
"Demetri got a couple threes, but he got to the free throw line, he got to the paint. That's something we really emphasized the last couple games. If we get points in the paint and get to the free throw line, we usually have success.
"I think he's trying to listen in practice. He has his setbacks here and there, but overall I think he understands better what it takes, the preparation. He's started to mature a little bit.
"But he's got to do it again on Thursday. The great players bring it every day whether it's a practice or game and take what the other team gives them. Today he was ready to score, another game he gets assists.
"I thought he guarded pretty well, I've got to give him credit for that. He did a good job of locking into (Jason) Bohannon, not giving him many free looks and keeping him off balance. I thought that was a key to the game also.
"We've made him come in to watch film. That's how you learn about yourself. And you've got to watch whether you win or lose. You've got to improve the things you didn't do right.
"The key word for our team is 'coachability.' That desire to get better. When you get to the dog days of the season, we've got a shorter practice, but when we go to practice we've got to get better. I think Demetri's made progress, and he's got to keep making progress."
Davis was the only other Illini in double figures, scoring ten points to go along with his 8 rebounds. But three other starters came close to double figures. Trent Meacham added 7 points and broke out of his shooting slump, Mike Tisdale added 8, and Chester Frazier scored 9. Chester explained his recent scoring outburst.
"They kind of talked to me to be a threat on offense instead of just passing the ball. They have confidence in me that I can shoot the ball, and my teammates told me to shoot the ball more. I've been taking advantage of opportunities on the offensive end and not just being a defensive player. I'm expanding my game. I always knew I could do it. I just kind of deferred to my teammates. They're a lot better scorers than me."
Wisconsin's head coach Bo Ryan emphasized Illinois' defense in the post game press conference.
"With their bigs, it's tough to get to the rim. And with the perimeter defenders who are much more mature, Chester, McCamey, you've got (Calvin) Brock coming in there, and Meacham, you've got guys now who handled the tough year last year with the idea you've just got to keep believing you're gonna be better. That they are. In this league, if you're not playing defense you don't even have a chance to be in games."
Badger stars Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry scored 13 points each, but their star on the day was blue collar senior Joe Krabbenhoff. He is the kind of tough, hard-nosed player Ryan insists on recruiting. And he knows how to fill a stat sheet. Weber bragged about Joe's 16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and quality defense.
"Joe is a guy you hate to play against. He does so much for them. He's like a utility guy in baseball. He plays all the positions, he's a great passer, and I think he's one of the best defenders in the league."
The Illini were able to shut out Wisconsin's other scorers. Bohannon shot only 1 for 7 on the day, and tall reserve Jon Leuer was only 1 for 6. The Badgers are tough at the top of their lineup, but their lack of balance hurt them.
Illinois had a seven point lead at the half and maintained it the rest of the game. They pushed the lead up to 15 at 45-30 before the Badgers clawed back. The Illini still held a ten point lead with 2:50 to play, but they had difficulty passing the ball against Wisconsin's full court press.
UW got the differential down to five at 62-57 with a couple threes and a putback. But the Illini bagged nine of their last 10 free throws to maintain their lead. On the day, Illinois shot 50% while holding Wiscosin to 35.6%.
Illinois is now 17-3 on the season and 5-2 in the Big 10. They have a date at Minnesota Thursday.