Preview: Wisconsin at No.22 Illinois

Winners of three in a row, Wisconsin looks to add to its Big Ten leading sixth road/neutral win when it heads down I-39 to take on No.22 Illinois at Assembly Hall Sunday afternoon.

Wisconsin (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Sunday, January 22, 1:00 p.m. Central

Arena – Assembly Hall (16,618)

Television - Big Ten Network (Brian Anderson and Gary Williams)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Illinois leads 110-76 (Illinois leads 68-20 in Champaign)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 76-66, on January 15, 2011 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

5 Ryan Evans (6-6 Junior Forward, 9.9 ppg)

11 Jordan Taylor (6-1 Senior Guard, 13.9 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 7.8 ppg)

31 Mike Bruesewitz (6-6 Junior Forward, 6.6 ppg)

40 Jared Berggren (6-10 Junior Forward, 10.6 ppg)

Off the Bench

1 Ben Brust (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 9.6 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-2 Freshman Guard, 1.6 ppg)

33 Rob Wilson (6-4 Senior Guard, 2.5 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (6-11 Freshman Forward, 2.5 ppg)

Illinois Probable Starters

1 D.J. Richardson (6-3 Junior Guard, 12.6 ppg)

2 Joseph Bertrand (6-5 Sophomore Guard, 6.7 ppg)

3 Brandon Paul (6-4 Junior Guard, 14.2 ppg)

12 Meyers Leonard (7-1 Sophomore Center, 13.1 ppg)

13 Tracy Abrams (6-1 Freshman Guard, 2.4 ppg)

Off the Bench

0 Sam Maniscalco (6-0 Senior Guard, 9.9 ppg)

15 Myke Henry (6-6 Freshman Guard, 3.5 ppg)

32 Nnanna Egwu (6-11 Freshman Forward, 2.2 ppg)

42 Tyler Griffey (6-8 Junior Forward, 5.4 ppg)

Last Time Out

MADISON - What was once a close Big Ten grind got quickly out of hand after Wisconsin ended five straight possessions over 2:07 with three points – three three-pointers from All-American Jordan Taylor, one from Josh Gasser and an old-fashioned one from Ryan Evans – that resulted in a 15-2 run that helped dispelled the Wildcats, 77-57, Wednesday at the Kohl Center.

Four Badgers scored in double figures and five had at least eight points as Wisconsin (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten) shot 50 percent from the floor for the eighth time this season but for the first time since Dec.27.

It's evident that the comfort returned from three-point range. Shooting 43 percent or better in four of its first six nonconference games, Wisconsin shot a combined 10 of 68 (14.7 percent) from three-point range in its first three Big Ten home games. Against Northwestern, Wisconsin knocked in 12 three-pointers, shot 52.2 percent from distance and six different players drained a perimeter shot.

The 12 threes were the most Wisconsin made since Nov.26 and made the Wildcats (12-6, 2-4), and their a depleted roster, switch between man and their 1-3-1 zone defense to try and find anything that could slow a UW offense that seemed determined to finally knock down some shots.

At times this season, it was evident that one three-point shot could have rewritten the entire story. Wisconsin attempted at least 19 three-pointers in all five of its losses this season and the Badgers made more than five three-pointers only twice.

So when Taylor started hitting his second-half three-pointers, it drew shades of his second-half performance against Ohio State last season, which also included everybody else chipping in at some point. Starting with the three-pointers, Wisconsin went on a 30-9 run over a nine-minute stretch that was headlined by the perimeter shooting, production in the post, 6-for-7 on free throws and a 4-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.

"We're doing a better job of moving without the ball and passing up shots for good shots," said Taylor, who moved into 15th place on UW's all-time scoring list with 1,278 points. "When shots go down, it's kind of contagious. You build up confidence in your teammates."

Staring at the stat sheet, it's hard to determine which player gave Wisconsin the biggest lift. Evans missed his only three-point attempt, but led the team in points (17), rebounds (9) and scored 15 in the second half. Taylor scored 12 of his 15 in the second half thanks to four three-pointers, three coming on that decisive run, and a 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Throw in Mike Bruesewitz's 13 points, Gasser's 10 points, a 17-1 margin in bench points and UW holding Northwestern's John Shurna (leading Big Ten scorer) and Drew Crawford (third leading scorer) to 4 of 12 in the second half, it was a complete effort.

- By Benjamin Worgull, Badgernation.com

Last Meeting

Winning its 18 consecutive game following a loss, Wisconsin outworked No.16 Illinois in the second half thanks to the play of its three leaders – Jon Leuer, Taylor and Keaton Nankivil – a group that scored 81.6 percent of its points in a 76-66 victory Saturday afternoon.

After the crunch-time implosion it experienced Tuesday, the opportunity to seize control was only go to last so long for the Badgers. Enter Nankivil to right the ship, as the senior helped Wisconsin (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) take control in the first three minutes of the second half, hitting two 3-pointers, the second of which capped a 10-0 run to give the Badgers a 37-25 working margin.

Just as big was his sequence at the midway point that Nankivil positioning underneath forced senior Mike Tisdale to the bench with his third foul with 10 minute left. The next series down, he promptly hit a three in the face of Tisdale's replacement, extending the lead back to 12.

Nankivil finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists, a performance that gave him his eighth double-digit performance in the last nine games, a nice compliment to Leuer scoring 15 of his game-high 26 points after halftime and Taylor adding 22 points by virtue of going 16 of 18 from the free throw line.

"He's been big for our team and one of the most underrated players in the league if you ask me," Taylor said. "He's athletic as anybody and he went up like a receiver. That was a big rebound and to get Tisdale to the bench. He got us going and he kept us going with that play."

In holding Illinois (13-5, 3-2) to 30.2 percent shooting, its lowest of the season, the Badgers made both parts of Illinois' one-two punch of Demetri McCamey and Tisdale work for everything it got. After the duo scored a combined 46 points in the team's first meeting, a 69-61 Illini win Jan.2, Nankivil made Tisdale a non-factor, as the Illini senior finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three turnovers.

Although McCamey finished with a team-high 23, the defense of Taylor and senior Tim Jarmusz limited him to only 3-for-13 shooting.

- By Benjamin Worgull, Badgernation.com

Series Notes:

Wisconsin has won 8 of the last 12 meetings with Illinois. Bo Ryan is 12-11 all-time vs. the Illini.

Reaching 60 points has been an incredible indicator in this series. The first team to score 60 points is 19-1 over the last 10 seasons. The only loss when reaching 60 first was UW's 71-64 comeback win on 1/20/07 (Illinois led 60-57 with 5:07 left).

Wisconsin has won in 3 of its last 5 trips to Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.

Wisconsin has 5 players from the state of Illinois, all hailing from the Chicagoland area: Ben Brust (Hawthorn Woods), George Marshall (Chicago), Dan Fahey (Chicago), Duje Dukan (Deerfield) and Frank Kaminsky (Lisle).

Taylor has scored at least 19 points in each of his last three games vs. Illinois, including a 22-point performance in the most recent meeting. In his last three games vs. Illinois, Taylor is averaging 20.3 points with 12 assists and 3 turnovers.

Other than Taylor, the rest of UW's returning roster has scored a COMBINED 32 points in 17 games against Illinois. Other than Taylor, the rest of the Badgers are averaging 1.4 points per game vs. the Illini. Admittedly, the rest of the UW roster has only player a combined 195 minutes vs. the Illini.

Wisconsin Notes

Wisconsin is 5-2 away from the Kohl Center this season, including three true road wins.

The Badgers lead the Big Ten with 5 road/neutral wins. UW's 3 true road wins trail only Michigan State (4-2). Indiana is the only other conference team with 3 road wins (3-3).

Away from home (road/neutral), UW is shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from 3-point range.

Wisconsin is a perfect 13-0 this season when posting a higher shooting percentage than its opponent. In fact, the Badgers have won 52 consecutive games when outshooting the other team. UW's last loss when recording a higher FG percentage was a 73-69 overtime loss at Iowa on Jan. 21, 2009.

Ryan also ranks 15th on the conference's Big Ten wins list, needing 2 more victories to pass Iowa's Tom Davis (1986-99) for 14th place. Among active coaches, Ryan trails only Tom Izzo (187) in Big Ten wins.

Illinois Notes:

Illinois has responded well when returning home after a road loss. During Coach Bruce Weber's nine seasons in Champaign, the Illini have won 18 of 23 games (.783) at the Assembly Hall when following a road defeat, including five straight victories entering Sunday's match-up with Wisconsin. All but one of the losses came to ranked opponents, the lone exception Purdue in 2008. The last time Illinois fell at home after a road loss was the final regular season game in 2010 when No. 15 Wisconsin defeated the Illini in Champaign.

Brandon Paul is the Big Ten's No. 1 scorer one-third of the way through conference action, averaging 20.3 points in league games. The last Illini player to lead the conference in scoring was Brian Cook during his senior season in 2003. He averaged exactly 20.0 points during league play, which also is the last time an Illini player averaged at least 20 points.

Illinois is 10-2 this season in games decided by single digits. Included in that total, the Orange and Blue are 6-2 in games decided by five points or less. That is a welcome change from last season when Illinois could not get over the hump in a number of close contests, dropping eight games where the UI led, was tied, or trailed by one point in the final minute. Illinois' six victories by five points or less tie the most in a season under Weber and the most since his 2006-07 squad also won six games by five or fewer.

Prediction

The Badgers went on a 21-6 run to open the second half, and they dropped the Wildcats in Madison for their third straight win. They better hope Brandon Paul doesn't catch that kind of fire.

Behind a historic 43-point effort from Brandon Paul, Illinois defeated No. 5 Ohio State to stay undefeated at home this season and were on top of the Big Ten standings before falling at Penn State. If it wasn't for Paul's 20 points and four made three-pointers, that game would have been even bigger.

Before the OSU game, Paul had questioned his three-point shooting. He even told a teammate that he planned to stop shooting three-pointers. Talk about putting the foot in the mouth. The junior guard made 8-of-10 three-pointers to finish with the third-most points in school history. Paul's amazing night included 11-of-15 shooting and 13-of-15 from the free throw line, while picking up eight rebounds and four blocks and overcoming a seven-turnover performance. His 43 points represented the second-highest point total in the NCAA this season at the time.

"At one point I looked up at the scoreboard and saw we were up and I had 30-some points, which kind of shocked me," Paul said. "But I was in the zone, so I just kept playing."

For the Illini, Paul represents a key cog in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament in a season with diminished expectations due to the loss of several standout seniors. With an ankle injury sidelining point guard Sam Maniscalco most of January, Paul's scoring spree comes at a good time. The recent solid play of guard Joseph Bertrand has helped the Illini to overcome youth -- six freshmen -- and the inexperience of several players suddenly thrust into key roles.

Paul, though, must become a consistent scorer. His previous career high was 23 points before the Ohio State game. Paul was shooting just 28 percent from beyond the arc prior to the OSU contest. Wisconsin will have to fight through screens and see if they can't get Paul shaken early.

Even if they do that, Wisconsin will have no chance if it can't shoot like it did Wednesday. The Illini are just ninth in the Big Ten in defending the perimeter, allowing their opponents to shoot 35.8 percent from three-point range.

A win at Assembly Hall would go a long way towards getting the Badgers back into the thick of the Big Ten race, as well as help Wisconsin get redemption for losing two conference games at the Kohl Center. The Big Ten is up for grabs this year, and another tough road win would put the rest of the conference on notice.

Is the Big Ten pretty much impossible to predict this year? Pretty much. Can Wisconsin win this game? Absolutely. Will they win this game? My gut says yet. Will I pick Wisconsin then? You bet. Badgers by three.

Worgull's Record: 16-4

Points off Prediction: 226 (11.30 per game)


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