With the Badgers leading the majority of the second half, Illinois exploded on a 6-0 run to grab their first lead since the opening minutes of the game. Drawing from previous outcomes, this game would already be signed, sealed and filed under the heading "Ones that got away."
Experience has a funny way of changing the karma and composure of a basketball team, especially if you're senior Kammron Taylor.
After shooting a combined 6-for-23 in his last two games, Taylor drops 20 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line, as No.2 Wisconsin outlasts Illinois 71-64, ending a seven-game losing streak at Assembly Hall.
After Illinois (14-7, 2-4 Big Ten) took a three-point lead with just over five minutes to go, the Badgers (19-1, 5-0 Big Ten) did not panic and hardly seemed rattled. Over the course of the next five minutes, the Badgers, blocking out the crowd and tuned in only to each other, could do little wrong.
Offensively, the Illini were near flawless, finishing the game on a 14-4 run by shooting 66 percent and being a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. Defensively, Wisconsin was even better, making Illinois miss their last six shots down the stretch.
"In year's past, we would have tried to get it all back in one possession," senior Alando Tucker said. "We understand the game of basketball as a unit and that is what is making us so tough. Two minutes can be a long time in college basketball and [understanding that] is what makes us so tough."
Taylor, who had been visibly frustrated with his shooting woes since scoring 25 against Ohio State, was on fire in the second half, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes.
Tucker, who had struggled just as much as his senior teammate in the last two games, also found his touch late, scoring 17 points. But according to his coach, what made his performance stand out were two shots that won't make his highlight reel.
"The best part of Alando's day today was when he forced a couple shots in the paint," Bo Ryan said. "After that, he didn't force any more shots and those last four or five possession were pretty good possessions. He knew he was drawing a lot of attention, and his experience tells him to get his teammates involved."
In addition to Taylor and Tucker, it seems that the Badgers are going to get offensive support from some unknown, unexpected source every night.
After two horrendous shots and only three minutes on the court against Purdue, Stiemsma scored a career-high 12 points (5-for-6 shooting) that included two clutch free throws that put the Badgers ahead for good.
"He was just so confident," Tucker said. "He caught it in clutch situations and knocked it down. We know what we're going to get from Greg defensively but when he has a game like that offensively, he's going to help us out so much."
"Greg hits those shots," Ryan added. "A couple of those shots he took a couple games ago were a little quick. His shots [today] were in the rhythm of the offense and they went down for him."
Although every jump shot looked nearly perfect, it was Stiemsma's free throws late in the game that he took the most pride in, adding to the overwhelming amount of composure incorporated into this ball club.
"We try to win the game all the time by working hard down the stretch; playing defense and making free throws" Stiemsma said. "This is a tough place to play. We just try to use the energy to our advantage like a home game."
While Wisconsin shot a season-high 85.7 percent (18-for-21) from the free throw line, Illinois' struggles from the charity stripe ultimately lead to their demise. Illinois shot under 61 percent (14-for-23) for the second straight game and only got to the line twice in the game's last five minutes.
"We went 2-for-4 on free throws down the stretch and Wisconsin converted every time down the floor at the end," Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. "We shoot free throws in practice all the time and today they didn't fall."
The Badgers were successful in multiple areas in the first half, especially in sharing the basketball that helped them to a 35-31 lead at halftime. Of the 13 buckets, Wisconsin garnered seven assists, turned the ball over only four times and shot nearly 88 percent from the free throw line. The Badgers also shut down Illinois' starting guards, as Trent Meacham and Rich McBride scored a combined six points.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin's big men were not as successful with their opponents' bigs. Junior Shaun Pruitt lead all scores in the first-half with 11, eight coming from the paint, and senior Warren Carter added six, as the two combined for 55 percent of the Fighting Illini's scoring in the first 20 minutes.
The second half was a different story for the big men, as Wisconsin limited the two to only 11 points. For the game, Carter scored nine points while Pruitt finished with a season-high in points (19) and rebounds (14).
But when the story ended, Wisconsin increased the longest winning streak in the country, and longest in school history since 1940-41, to 15 games and halted another streak, winning at Illinois for the first time since 1997. With Wisconsin's newfound composure and successfully removing the Illini monkey off their back, there's no telling what the future has in store for the Badgers.
"This group is chomping at the bit to get their chance," Ryan said. "We're playing well and having a good time."