The typically high flying, high scoring Illini used their strong defensive presence to frustrate the Badgers and force them into their worst shooting performance of the season. Wisconsin shot a dismal 24 percent from the floor in the first half and finished the game a miserable 26 percent.
"Inside, we had a chance to finish on some shots and we didn't finish, so then it all becomes conversation about what if, but we didn't see anything different there of how they played or what they were doing," UW head coach Bo Ryan said.
An impressive all-round performance from junior forward James Augustine, who was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player, doomed the Badgers. Augustine paced the Illini offense in the fist half with eight points and finished the night hitting all five of the shots he attempted on his way to 12 points.
Augustine controlled UW on the defensive end as well with three blocked shots, while finishing one rebound shy of a double-double, as the New Lenox, Ill., native grabbed nine boards.
"He's a good player, he has worked hard, and he has done everything to get there," Ryan said. "Tonight he played extremely well and he was very aggressive, he intimidated our guys a little bit."
No one on Wisconsin scored in double figures and for the third straight game, All-Big Ten first-team selection Mike Wilkinson struggled. The combination of Augustine, Roger Powell Jr. and Jack Ingram overpowered and shut down the UW post game. Wilkinson shot just 1 of 7 (14 percent) from the floor, his worst shooting performance since the Badgers lost to Marquette in December.
"They did a good job of making me work down there," Wilkinson said. "Once you caught it they did a good job of running all their bigs at you and making you kick it out, but I had some shots and I just didn't knock them down."
Alando Tucker led the Badgers in scoring, but was held in check all afternoon, especially in the first half. A member of the all-tournament team, Tucker had the worst half of his tournament, missing all four shots in the opening 20 minutes. Playing in his first Big Ten Tournament final, he led the Badgers in scoring with nine points, but still shot just 4 of 14 from the floor.
"Some of the things we have been doing early, we didn't finish early and that pretty much set the tone," Tucker said. "We didn't attack, we settled for the outside shot instead of aggressively attacking the basket."
The shooting slump allowed Illinois to open up a 26-18 advantage going into halftime, despite some offensive struggles of its own. The Illini would extend their lead to as much as 16 in the second half before the Badgers finally put forth a brief stint of offensive production.
With 7:30 remaining in the contest, Illinois went up 46-31 on a Luther Head 3-pointer as the Illini looked to put the finishing touches on their second Big Ten title this season. But Wisconsin refused to go quietly as the Badgers mustered a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 46-41 with 4:41 remaining.
"We knocked down some shots [during that run], that's about all you can really say," Wilkinson said. "We got some stops on one end and we knocked down some shots on the other end and that was the run."
But the Badgers could not pull any closer, despite having plenty of opportunities late in the game. UW had five chances to cut the lead under four within the final four minutes. Kam Taylor and Tucker missed tough lay-ups, and Taylor, Wilkinson and Tucker missed jumpers — all in a two-minute, 20-second period.
"We score on that and it gets real interesting," Ryan said of Tucker's opportunity in the lane. "But that's the way it goes."
Tucker and Morley named to All-Tournament team
Wisconsin had two members of the Big Ten All-Tournament team as both Tucker and senior forward Zach Morley were selected at the conclusion of Sunday's Championship game. Tucker, who hit the game winning shot in the semifinals against Iowa as time expired, averaged 13.7 points per game over the course of the tournament.
Morley, who averages less than eight points per game, played as well as he has all season this weekend in Chicago. The 6-foot-8 senior led the Badgers in their opening round victory over Ohio State Friday with a career-high 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting off the bench. He followed up that performance with 17 points off the bench against Iowa, but scored just five points in Wisconsin's loss to Illinois.