The process wasn't perfect, but we're past that point anyway, aren't we? Wisconsin picked up a big road win Tuesday night, taking down Illinois in Champaign, 75-63.
The Badgers turned the ball over a remarkable 11 times and allowed the Illini several runs to keep the game close, but strong performances from Nigel Hayes, Ben Brust and Sam Dekker kept Wisconsin in a mostly comfortable position.
Losers of five of their last six, the Badgers haven't been in as desperate need of a win as they were Tuesday night in some time. After Saturday's loss to Ohio State and with Michigan State coming to Madison this weekend, Wisconsin's win over Illinois became even more important. Dekker and Brust each scored 16 points to lead UW, while Hayes added 14 in yet another strong showing for the freshman. Maligned point guard Traevon Jackson also finished with a solid line, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds and three assists.
Puzzling rotations by Bo Ryan and an abnormally high number of turnovers muddled the first half, though the Badgers nevertheless entered the break with a 36-30 lead. Hayes led all scorers at the break with 10 points. Brust had eight of his 16 points in the first half, while Dekker, after scoring just four points vs. Ohio State, had seven at halftime.
The ugliness stemmed from Wisconsin's 11 turnovers -- the Badgers averaged 8.2 per game entering Tuesday, tied for fewest in the country. They were spread evenly throughout in Champaign -- Brust had four, while Dekker and Hayes each had two. As for the rotations, it continues to puzzle most Badgers fans how Bo Ryan continues his apparent limitation of Hayes and freshman point guard Bronson Koenig, who also enjoyed a solid game with five points, two rebounds and assist in playing time that was limited to mostly the first half.
Ryan continues to juggle Koenig and Hayes with Jackson and Dekker. Jackson in particular has faced widespread criticism for his recent play, though his line today was solid. Fans have clamored for Hayes to slide into the starting lineup, or at the very least see more time on the floor, but the freshman's 25 minutes were more than Frank Kaminsky's (20, though he was saddled with foul trouble) and just shy of Dekker's 29.
Michigan State, an undeniable top-10 team and tied with Michigan atop the Big Ten standings at 8-1, awaits Wisconsin in Madison Sunday afternoon. That game should reveal a ton about how the Badgers handle the adversity that smacked them squarely in the face following their 16-0 start.
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