No. 1 Illinois ends Wisconsin's streak

Badgers lose 75-65 for first defeat at the Kohl Center since December of 2002

MADISON – As the final seconds ticked off the Kohl Center clock Tuesday evening, the crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation.

No, fans of the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team could not celebrate a 39th consecutive win at home. The Badgers had lost, 75-65, to No. 1 Illinois in a game that was much closer than the final score appeared.

The smattering of Illini fans dressed in Orange rose to applaud their team, which had snapped the nation's longest winning streak, handing UW its first home loss since Dec. 4, 2002.

The Badger fans rose as well, paying homage to a streak that spanned across three seasons and to a team that won its first 26 conference home games under fourth-year head coach Bo Ryan.

"I told the kids if we win this one we are going to be one up on everyone because I don't know if anyone's capable of coming in here and winning besides us," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.

On this night it was Illinois' streaks that were extended. The Illini have opened this season with a 20-0 record, 6-0 in the Big Ten. They have now won 16 consecutive conference regular season games and 30 consecutive regular season games overall. Illinois also set a new school record with nine consecutive Big Ten road wins.

"We know they probably wanted to knock us off," Illinois junior guard Deron Williams said. "We had a different agenda. I think we wanted it more."

The streak that mattered to the vast majority of the more than 17,000 fans in attendance Tuesday was UW's 38 straight home wins. That streak, however, was never a favorite topic of conversation among Badger players and coaches and they had little use for it following Tuesday's game.

"We'll reflect on that after the season," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said.

"It is over. You've got to move on," Wilkinson said. "It's frustrating now but as a competitor if you lost and you weren't frustrated that would be worse."

"Guys aren't worried about losing that streak," Ryan said. "It was a Big Ten conference game. That's all we were playing for. We just didn't get that done. That's what the guys were thinking about. If you've ever been in that situation that's what you think about."

"It was impressive. I'm really proud to be a part of a team that had 38 wins in a row," senior guard Sharif Chambliss said. "More importantly we lost a conference game tonight.

"That's the bigger story. We lost an important game on our race to the Big Ten."

Indeed, if the Badgers are to win a Big Ten title they have a mighty hole to climb out from. The Illini, a team that looked poised to win all of its games Tuesday, is now two games up on Wisconsin (4-2 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) in the conference standings.

From Illinois' perspective, however, this win was as big as they come, an accomplishment no Big Ten team has been able to lay claim to since Michigan State beat the Badgers here 51-47 in overtime on Feb. 27, 2001.

"This is a great moment, they're enjoying it in the locker room," Weber said. "The is the most excited they have been all year."

This was Illinois' first win at the Kohl Center since 1998. The Illini lost the 2003 Big Ten regular season crown here on a free throw with four-tenths of a second left and suffered a 20-point defeat here last season.

"They are proud of themselves," Weber said. "They truly wanted to come back up here and win and break the streak. I didn't make it a goal, but I think they did in their minds. They feel good about it."

This year Illinois' streaks marched on.

Incredible crowd

Until Illinois put the game away in the final minutes, the atmosphere inside the Kohl Center Tuesday evening was exceptionally electric.

The crowd was at a fever pitch even before the game started. Badger fans roared with approval as Wisconsin battled the Illini, particularly during Wisconsin's 17-4 run in the second half and during a first-half stretch when the Badgers made 4 of 5 3-pointers in rapid succession.

When Wilkinson followed junior forward Ray Nixon's third 3-pointer of the first half with a baseline spin and reverse layup to tie the game at 26-26, the sound practically shook the Kohl Center's foundations.

The noise, however, did not get to Illinois' players and coaches.

"They do like the limelight," Weber said. "Their face lights up. They enjoy it. They enjoy the crowds. They came in again, you know, telling me different things that the crowd said. They laughed about it. I think it just adds a little juice to their motivation."

Starks, Brooks honored

The University of Wisconsin honored former defensive backs Scott Starks and Robert Brooks during the first television timeout Tuesday for their "Pontiac Game Changing Play of the Year." In the waning moments of the Badgers' football victory at Purdue in October, Brooks forced Boilermaker quarterback Kyle Orton to fumble and Starks picked up the loose ball and ran it back for a game-wining touchdown.

The play was the top vote getter in end-of-season fan balloting for play of the year, earning the UW Athletic Department $100,000 for its general scholarship fund. The athletic department, in turn, awarded five students $1,000 each for education expenses.

The remainder of the grant was used to endow a football scholarship in Brooks' and Starks' names. The duo joined UW football coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez and the five grant recipients at center court during the media break Tuesday evening.

The Kohl Center crowd gave the group a standing ovation. The crowd gave a similarly raucous ovation during the under eight minutes television timeout, when former Badger receiver Lee Evans made a guest appearance.


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