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Wisconsin's impressive home streak comes to screeching halt, as Illini deal serious blow to Badgers' Big Ten title hopes

MADISON, Wis. - Flat.  Uninspired.  Lackadaisical.  Sloppy.

If there is any quality you wouldn't want your basketball team to display, the Badgers were probably guilty of it Tuesday night against Illinois. 

After 40 minutes of lethargic ball in front of a listless sellout crowd, Wisconsin's many home winning streaks - some of them years in the making - anticlimactically ended.

Consecutive wins at the Kohl Center?  Done at 18 games.

51 straight against unranked Big Ten opponents in Madison?  Don't make it 52.  The loss was head coach Bo Ryan's first ever in that category.

Still, Ryan wasn't ready to close the book on those impressive feats without reflecting a bit.

"[The streak] means our guys have been playing well," Ryan said.  "They've made shots and they've played [defense] and they've taken care of business.  If it was so easy, how come everybody else doesn't do it?  It means something when it comes to guys taking pride in what they do."

All that is for the historians, though.

What's relevant to most fans is that the Badgers blew a potential opportunity to move into a first-place tie in the Big Ten, a conference in which most preseason prognosticators predicted them to finish seventh or lower.

Instead, Wisconsin will find itself fighting to tread water over its final seven games.  Games that all seemed winnable when the day began, but now are in question.

Poor shooting, poor result

It was easy to be blinded by a convincing sweep over the two teams from Michigan last week, but the truth is that we should have known this was coming.

How many games can a team shoot an abysmal percentage, but play good enough defense to win?  It worked for Wisconsin over inferior teams like Penn State and Michigan at home.  It didn't when Demetri McCamey scored 27 points for Illinois.

For its part, Wisconsin shot 36 percent overall from the field and scored a total of 21 points in the second half.

Trevon Hughes didn't score a point after the break, despite taking eight shots.  He said his inability to get to the free throw line had a lot to do with it.

"We just weren't making anything in the second half," Hughes said.  "I believe my teammates had good looks, I was forcing things.  I wasn't getting the calls because I was being just aggressive.  If I would have finessed everything, I probably would have gotten the call."

The Badgers only took nine free throw attempts in the entire game.  Ryan admitted the empty possessions may have had an effect on his team's offense.

"I thought we were going to get to the free throw line with some penetration and contact," Ryan said.  "I think our guys got a little gun-shy when we didn't get to the free throw line.  I think that did affect us, and you just have to be tougher and play through that."

Bohannon had a simpler suggestion for his team, which scored just eight total points in the last 12:58 of the game.

"We just have to find a way to make those shots," Bohannon said.

The missing man

How many games can a team play without its second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, but somehow scrape together a victory?  Especially when that player is Wisconsin's only hint of a post presence?  (Speaking of which, why is Keaton Nankivil still tiptoeing around the three-point arc and why did the colossal, three-headed monster of underachievement known as Jared Berggren, Ian Markolf and J.P. Gavinski play one combined minute Tuesday?)  Wisconsin's three/four-guard lineup matches up well enough to get it done against the undersized Spartans and Wildcats.  It provided no answer for towering Mike Tisdale, who dropped 19 on the Badgers.

Hughes refused to chalk up Tisdale's performance to the absence of Jon Leuer and his 6-11 frame.

"I wouldn't say [Tisdale's] height was a factor," Hughes said.  "He wasn't blocking any shots."

Without any inside game, though, the Badgers continued to live and die by the three-pointer.  They took 18 of their 31 second-half shots from behind the arc, while posting a paltry six points in the paint.  Illinois head coach Bruce Weber took notice.

"They seemed to rely so much on the three-pointers," Weber said.  "They really hurt us with threes at the beginning of the game.  Maybe they fell in love with the three because they didn't make them late.  They don't really go inside much."

A resilient bunch

Wisconsin's players, to a man, expressed confidence that they would bounce back and prepare for Indiana without lingering doubts over missing a potential shot at first place.  Though it may be by necessity more than anything else.

"We have to put this behind us and realize there is another very good team coming in on Saturday," Bohannon said.  "We have to be ready to play.  It's just the nature of the Big Ten; if you lose a game and you are still focusing on that game, you will lose the next game down the road.  We have to look ahead and come ready to play."

Nankivil wasn't ready to embrace the importance of this missed opportunity.

"We are not going to let one loss get to us," Nankivil said.  "There is a lot of season left.  There are a lot of things that can happen.  As much of a cluster as the Big Ten is, there is no reason to dwell on one loss.  We just have to go out and play and do everything we can to get back in a good position."

The head coach may have spoken the loudest for his team, when he addressed a reporter's question about how disappointed the locker room was after such a stinging loss. 

Ryan had just one word for him.



-Jake Harris