MADISON, Wis.—Devin Harris stood poised along the 3-point line with Illinois' Deron Williams crouched in a perfect defensive position. Harris jab-stepped once, twice, Williams did not flinch, holding his outstretched arm just inches from Harris' face. So Harris stepped back and swished a 3-point shot, giving him a career-high 30 points and putting an exclamation mark on a dominating 76-56 victory Saturday.
Junior forward Mike Wilkinson added a career-high 24 for the Badgers, who extended their home winning streak to 24 games, 20 in conference play.
"They are a tough team, they are a smart team and their best two players played two of their best games, maybe of their career and we didn't have enough to rise up to compete with that," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.
Wisconsin (13-3 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) withstood two Illinois (12-5, 3-3) runs and was extremely efficient offensively, hitting 52 percent of its shots and scoring 23 points off 15 Illinois turnovers.
Wilkinson and Harris, though, assumed starring roles and turned and anticipated dogfight into a rout. The duo accounted for 19 of Wisconsin's 27 field goals, scored 24 of the Badgers' first 26 points and completely dominated whichever Illini players tried to defend them.
"I thought they did a good job of taking what was there," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "(Devin) did a good job of keeping them on their heels. I thought Mike did a good job of keeping people honest in the post."
Harris was held to just three points in the second half of Wisconsin's loss to Purdue Jan. 14, then had a season-low five points in Wednesday's win over Michigan. Saturday, he simply could not be stopped, hitting 9 of 15 shots, 4 of 7 from beyond the arc and 8 of 10 from the foul line. He drove to the basket seemingly at will and also had a career-high nine field goals.
"I think I had one of my worst games on Wednesday so I just wanted to bounce back from that and just come out and have a pretty good game," Harris said.
"He is just a very smart player," Weber said. "He doesn't have a great night the other night. I told the kids he is going to come motivated. Great players rise up. He is not going to sit back and let that happened two nights in a row."
Wilkinson finished 10 of 15 from the floor and 2-for-3 beyond the arc, scoring 14 points in less than 14 minutes to start the game. He topped his previous career high of 20 at the 13:59 mark in the second half.
"He has been playing extremely well in the post the last two games and that just gives us open shots on the perimeter and it softens up the driving lanes," Harris said.
Illini sophomore center James Augustine, the Big Ten's No. 2 rebounder at 9.2 per game, was held to just one rebound and had no success trying to guard Wilkinson. Illinois tried guards Dee Brown, Williams and Luther Head against Harris with a similar lack of success.
Illinois had averaged 84 points per game in its last two contests, but the Badgers clamped down defensively, holding the Illini to 37 percent shooting. Illinois' most explosive offensive weapons, guards Williams and Brown, were held to 12 total points on 5 of 21 from the floor.
"We just basically tried to force them to shoot pull-up jump shots and not let them get to the rim," Harris said. "We wanted to limit their transition abilities and just make them play a halfcourt game and also make them play defense on us, especially in the post. We were very successful. I guess they got a little tired."
Illinois' one solace was the play of junior forward Roger Powell, who scored 15 of 17 Illinois points between the last three minutes of the first half and the opening four minutes of the second half. He had a career-high 24 points, converting 7 of 12 field goals and 9 of 10 free throws.
Wisconsin jumped out to a 17-6 lead early in the first half, with Wilkinson and Harris accounting for 15 points on 6 of 8 shooting. The Illini closed to 26-21 on Head's 3-pointer but the Badgers responded with a 6-0 run. Powell then scored seven of Illinois' nine points before half, almost single-handedly keeping the Illini in the game.
Wisconsin built a 44-32 lead early in the second half, but Powell scored six unanswered and Head added two free throws to close the gap to 44-40. Wilkinson, though, scored seven straight UW points to spark a 15-2 run that put the game away.
"We didn't panic, we didn't pressure it," Wilkinson said. "We just went down and ran our offense and took what they gave us."