Recovering the Grit

Digging a 15-point deficit early in the second half, Wisconsin is able to chip away at the lead by showing the grittiness that has been vacant the last two weeks, a characteristic that gave the Badgers a chance in the final minute before ultimately succumbing to Illinois.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Down 15 points with 14:11 remaining in the second half, it was evident that Wisconsin basketball was headed for a fourth consecutive conference loss, a dubious accomplishment the Badgers haven't achieved since 1998.

Roughly 13 minutes later, the end result wasn't so apparent.

Quietly chipping away at what seemed like an insurmountable lead against the conference's top defense team, the Badgers shrunk the lead to single digits four times, getting as close as five points, showing the missing grit and determination that had abandoned Wisconsin during its three-game slide.

While the will to win was there, the execution still is missing, one of the main reasons Wisconsin's furious comeback got no closer than two possessions, as the Badgers begrudgingly settled for a 64-57 defeat at the hands of Illinois, ending Wisconsin's five-game dominance over the Fighting Illini.

"It showed a lot," senior Joe Krabbenhoft said of the comeback. "That's something we can build off of. The last couple of minutes, guys were giving it all, but you've got to do that for 40 minutes. You can't win it in the last two minutes of the game. We need 40 minutes and that's what this team is looking to do.

"You've got to take something to build off of. We need some momentum, something. We don't want to be in that situation, but we know that we have guys to do it."

The comeback momentum for Wisconsin (12-7, 3-4 Big Ten) started simple enough, as senior Marcus Landry, after shooting 1-for-5 in the first half, finally got some shots to start falling, going on a mini 6-2 run. The torch was then passed to Trevon Hughes, who was coming off one of his worst stretches of basketball in his career.

Committing 14 turnovers in his past three games (he had a combined 13 in the 11 previous games) and shooting a combined 10-of-32 (31 percent) from the floor, Hughes scored six of his 13 points during a four and a half minute stretch to get the Illinois lead down to 10.

The next hand off was to Krabbenhoft, who scored three of his career-high 16 points from the free throw line and grabbed three of team-high 12 rebounds, to cut the score to seven.

The chiseling continued. Hughes nailed his second three to keep the lead at seven with 1:20 left and Krabbenhoft nailed his third triple to squeak the lead down to six after Demetri McCamey (25 points) his two free throws the possession before.

Over the game's final 21 possessions, Wisconsin scored 1.1 points per possession to slowly ease its way back into the game.

"We've got some fighters out there," Hughes said. "We never gave up."

After Krabbenhoft's three, the Badgers forced three turnovers, changed the possession arrow on a held ball and caused Illinois to call a timeout – five positive things on a full-court defensive press that earned UW some last-ditch shot attempts – all in the final 73 seconds.

"(It was) just grit," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "The guys that were on the floor are the toughest guys we have. We just need to get that from the rest of the guys. Sometimes that comes with strength and experience."

Those five guys were four of UW's starters – forward Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, and guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon – and freshman guard Jordan Taylor, an extremely bright spot during this cloudy four-game slide.

"Jordan Taylor and Trevon really did a good job of denying (on the press), and Joe's always going to have his nose in there," Ryan said. "Krabbenhoft's the guy. He really just sets such a great example. The younger guys are trying to get like that."

But with Illinois continuing to make its free throws (finishing 18-of-22 from the line), UW missed five of seven shots in that final 1:13, including two wide-open looks from both Jason Bohannon and Hughes, that stymied UW chances to break its losing streak.

It was a rough night for Bohannon and Jon Leuer, who went a combined 2-for-13.

"Man, did we have some good looks," Ryan said. "Would I want those shots? Yeah, I'd take them."

Added Hughes: "That's the way it's been going lately. The shots aren't falling for us and it's frustrating. We want to win. We've got people in the locker room that want that. We know what to do to win, but we aren't doing those things … Our shots were there and we just didn't make them."

Wisconsin is doing the things they need to win. The problem is that the Badgers are only getting desperate after digging too deep of a hole. Against Iowa, Wisconsin, after blowing a seven point second half lead, didn't find its moxie until the final minute in order to force overtime.

Against Illinois, Wisconsin, which never led after the 16:35 mark of the first half, the Badgers didn't start playing with a sense of urgency until after Ryan got his technical, a turnaround that began much too late.

"We came back two games in a row from big deficits in the final minute," Taylor said. "We can do that. It's just the fact that once we get a lead, we have to be able to keep it. We can put our self in a hole to begin with or let teams out of big holes, which is something you can't do in the Big Ten if you want to win games.

"We showed a little toughness (and) a sense of urgency for once and we have to show that for 40 minutes, which is something we haven't been doing the last four games. We need 40 strong minutes to play Wisconsin basketball."


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