After two games of shooting below 40 percent, Wisconsin shot 50.9 percent (27-for-53) - the 10th time this season the Badgers have shot better than 50 percent – and shot 58.3 percent (14-for-24) in the first 20 minutes.
The main reason for the high first-half percentage was the Badgers’ ability to consistently find ways to attack the paint, which the Wisconsin frontcourt greatly benefited from. Wisconsin finished the game with 36 points in the paint (22 in the first half), and Frank Kaminsky, who had to make some difficult shots going away from the hoop, managed to put the right touch on the ball to make the shot fall.
Kaminsky led the way for Wisconsin with 23 points, 17 of which came in the first half, on 11-for-16 from the field. Bronson Koenig had 15 points, Nigel Hayes finished with 14 points and Sam Dekker scored 10 points. Josh Gasser was the lone starter who didn’t reach double digits but finished the game with three points, two assists to zero turnovers.
Gasser wasn’t alone in good ball security. Koenig finished with four assists and zero turnovers in 37 minutes, as the Badgers finished with only four team turnovers. It was the third time in the past five games Koenig didn’t commit a turnover.
The length for Wisconsin helped the Badgers consistently grab missed shots and generate extra possessions. Wisconsin collected 15 offensive rebounds off of the 26 missed shots and generated 12 points off of second chances. Hayes and Dekker each had three offensive rebounds and Kaminsky and Gasser each had two.
Illinois entered the game with three players averaging double figures but only Malcolm Hill (15 points on 5-for-9 shooting) and Rayvonte Rice (10 points on 4-for-12) reached that mark. Kendrick Nunn had reached double figures in nine straight games but only scored seven points – all in the second half - on 2-for-10 shooting in 36 minutes.
Illinois finished the game 18-for-45 (40 percent) from the field and went 4-for-11 from 3-point range, with all of its makes coming in the first 10 minutes. Wisconsin did a good job contesting shots by getting hands in the face of shooters and limited open jumpers. Wisconsin had a few lapses that caused players to get separation off of screens and did foul a few jump shooters, but the Badgers’ front court limited Illinois to 14 points in the paint. Six-foot-11 center Nnanna Eggwu managed only six points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field.
Even though Kaminsky or Hayes failed to register a block, they still were physical down low and consistently played good defense around the rim. That, along with active hands on defense, helped force 10 Illinois turnovers (eight in the first half) and six steals. Wisconsin registered 16 points off turnovers, extra possessions that helped the Badgers take control of the game and help build a lead.
Kaminsky was able to put on a show in the first half but it was Koenig who dominated the second, scoring 13 of his 15 points. Consistently able to get open from beyond the 3-point line, Koenig hit three of UW’s five second-half 3-pointers and also found ways to drive to the basket when Illinois overplayed, resulting in a pair of nice drives to the hoop that resulted in points.
Although Illinois stuck around for much of the game, the Badgers took control of the game at the end of the first half. With the game tied at 22 points at 6:04, the Badgers closed out the half on a 10-2 run, scoring eight points in the paint and two from the free throw line.
The strong finish to the half didn’t end there, as Wisconsin was able to quickly build its lead to double digits within the first minute of the second half. Illinois never got closer than nine points the rest of the way, going 2-for-10 in the final 8:25. Give Wisconsin’s defense credit, as they consistently made life difficult and forced the Illini to settle for jump shots, opposed to them trying to consistently attack the basket.
With Wisconsin protecting the paint, it didn’t allow many opportunities for Illinois to get to the free throw line. Illinois ranks first in the Big Ten in free throw percentage (second nationally) and Wisconsin’s 11 team fouls only allowed the Illini to attempt 11 free throws (all in the second half).
Game MVP: Frank Kaminsky. Two games of being held in check, Kaminsky was able to turn things around in a big way by helping set the tone early in the first half. Kaminsky’s 17 points came all around the basket. Even if Illinois was able to play good defense, it was just simply better offense by Kaminsky, as he was able to find the bottom of the net on some difficult shots.
Even if Kaminsky didn’t have as much scoring success in the second half, his play did help Koenig get into a rhythm, which helped the Badgers keep a double-digit lead throughout the second half. Even though Kaminsky’s first made field goal in the second half didn’t come until the 4:08 mark, he was able to score six straight points to put the game completely out of reach for Illinois.
Even when he wasn’t scoring, Kaminsky still was able to impact the game by consistently attacking the glass to finish the game with 11 rebounds, which helped Wisconsin win the rebounding battle 32-25. It was Kaminsky’s 10th double-double on the season.