There was a stark contrast between how Wisconsin played the first 10 minutes of the first half compared to the last 10. The offensive efficiency Wisconsin played with against Indiana was nowhere to be found by starting 5-for-15 from the field, causing the Badgers to dig itself an 18-10 hole. But Wisconsin used the last 10 minutes to go on a 23-10 run to end the half, thanks to shooting 11-17 from the field. Wisconsin finished the first half shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
Six different players for Wisconsin scored in that span, and Nigel Hayes and Khalil Iverson combined to score 12 of Wisconsin’s final 23 points. Wisconsin was able to finally start busting the zone Illinois was playing that partially caused the shooting struggles to begin the game.
The offense that was on display over the first 10 minutes of the first half resurfaced in the second half, however, as Wisconsin went 6-for-19 after halftime. The six made field goals were the fewest Wisconsin made in a half since the first half against Oklahoma (six).
Despite the poor second-half shooting, the Badgers overcame it by getting to the free throw line. Between the 10:10 mark and the 2:04 mark in the second half, Wisconsin went 0-for-5 from the field but 7-for-8 from the free throw line. After shooting 35 or more free throws over the last three games, Wisconsin only managed 20 attempts, all coming in the second half. Wisconsin connected on 17 of its free throws.
Throughout the game, the Badgers got scoring from different sources, which was needed since Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ were on the bench in the first half with foul trouble. Hayes led Wisconsin with 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting from the field. Koenig was second with 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting and Iverson finished with a career-high 10 points off the bench. Coming off the bench for the first time this season because of an upper body injury, Vitto Brown scored nine points off the bench. Jordan Hill (two points) filled in as the starter. After failing to score against Indiana, Zak Showalter scored eight points. Overall Wisconsin shot 22-for-50 (44 percent) from the field.
Despite Illinois allowing 33.5 points in the paint, Wisconsin finished the game with 22. UW found success in the first half, registering 14 of its 33 points in the paint, but Illinois did a better job in the second half by taking away scoring possibilities. The Badgers settled for jump shots and struggled from 3-point range, finishing 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) in the game.
Wisconsin allowed Illinois two leading scorers - Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn - to score 22 and 15 points, respectively, and combine to score 37 of the team’s 55 points, Wisconsin only allowed four other players to score on a combined 7-for-19 from the field., Wisconsin held Illinois to 18-for-50 (36 percent) from the field, the lowest shooting percentage Wisconsin has allowed since the Texas A&M Corpus Christi game (32.8 percent).
Illinois took the early lead thanks to the 3-point shot, as 12 of its first 16 points came off of made three’s. After the Illini 4-for-6 start, Wisconsin performed better on closing out on shooters. Illinois went 2-for-8 the rest of the game, a good stat for UW since Illinois had been averaging 8.4 3-pointers over the last five games.
Although a total of six players scored for Illinois, Wisconsin only allowed four players to score in the second half, as Hill and Nunn combined to score 21 of Illinois’ 27 second-half points. The Badgers did a good job pestering Nunn on possessions, as he struggled developing a rhythm in a 2-for-6 second half that yielded just seven points. Wisconsin’s strong defense held Illinois to only eight made field goals on 25 attempts in the second half.
Turning 11 Illinois turnovers into 10 points, Wisconsin registered six steals, limited second-chance opportunities and held Illinois to eight points in the paint (a season low for UW). For the 13th time this season, Wisconsin held its opponent to single digit offensive rebounds (Illinois had five). The Illini finished with only two second-chance points, marking the third time this year where Wisconsin held an opponent to two or fewer points in this category.
The offense hit a dry spell in the second half, but Wisconsin was able to find a way to overcome only making six field goals in the second half by finding ways to manufacture points and deliver on defense. Impressively, UW never trailed in the second half, as the Illini never got closer than three points with the Badgers consistently forcing the hosts to work for a good shot.
Iverson played a very nice game by being aggressive from start to finish, something that has been missing as of late. With Happ (six points) and Koenig in foul trouble, Wisconsin’s offense needed someone to step up.
Iverson was able to do that by registering a steal, which he converted into a dunk for his opening two points, and did a good job of moving without the ball. On one play he continued moving his feet to get open underneath the hoop before Hayes (two assists) found him for an easy dunk. Overall Iverson finished 3-for-4 from the field in a career-best 30 minutes. He also went 4-for-4 from the free throw line, collected five rebounds (two offensive), had two assists, one block and one steal.
Despite seeing his double-digit scoring streak end at seven games, Happ led Wisconsin with nine rebounds and helped UW win the rebounding battle 37-to-25. Happ also led Wisconsin with three offensive rebounds and helped his team score seven second-chance points.
After committing only three turnovers in the first half, Wisconsin had more turnovers (9) than field goals (6) in the second half, extending its double-digit turnover streak to three games. Four different players committed at least two turnovers, leading to 11 Illinois points. However, the Badgers held Illinois without any fast break points.
Game MVP: Nigel Hayes. Iverson played his best game of his career by doing a little bit of everything, but Hayes iced the game down the stretch for Wisconsin. Over the last minute of the game, Wisconsin attempted eight free throws and Hayes went 6-for-6, helping make sure that Illinois couldn’t complete the comeback. Hayes also was a big reason to why Wisconsin found a spark its first half comeback. After Koenig picked up his second foul in the first half, Hayes knocked down a jumper – his first points of the game - on the first Wisconsin offensive possession after Koenig went out. Of the last 18 points scored by Wisconsin on the first half run, he was responsible for eight of them, not to mention the assist to Iverson for the open dunk.