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Wisconsin chilled in Champaign

Shooting differential dooms UW versus Illinois again

If I told you that Wisconsin shot 35 threes against No. 23 Illinois, you would probably guess that they lost. And you would be right.

True to recent form, Sunday night's Wisconsin-Illinois game was decided when one team got hot and the other side couldn't keep up. In this case, it was the Badgers who came out cold in the second half and were unable to disrupt the Illini shooters, resulting in a 69-61 loss in Champaign.

The Demetri McCamey-led Illini have simply proven to be a bad match-up for Wisconsin over the last several meetings. Bruce Weber's offense runs his shooters through multiple off-ball screens and they have the length to fire over the Badger defenders once they get that step. Then, when McCamey needs to take over in crunch time by getting to the rack or pulling up for 3-pointers on switches, Wisconsin can only foul. McCamey's free throw shooting was the steadying force down the stretch as the senior hit more freebies (11-of-15) than the entire UW squad (9-of-12).

Illinois (12-3, 2-0 Big Ten) shot 66% in the first half, but could not shake Wisconsin since the Badgers shot 6-of-15 on 3-pointers themselves. Keaton Nankivil led the way for UW with 11 first-half points, five rebounds and three triples. Wisconsin (11-3, 1-1) also managed to grab five offensive boards in the half, finishing with 11. But if you watched the game, it was Illinois who was swarming to the ball on every Badger miss. Wisconsin's second chances came on fluke bounces and long rebounds, and it appeared Illinois truly had the personnel to dominate that area, evidenced by the final 31-24 rebounding advantage the Illini enjoyed.

This game was lost in the second half when the ball simply stopped going in the hoop for the Badgers. Credit Illinois for adjusting and stepping up their man-to-man pressure, but Wisconsin was still getting very open looks. Nankivil missed a pair of clean looks from long distance, as did Tim Jarmusz, the same shots they buried in the first half. The team started 0-for-12 on treys after the break and got only six Jon Leuer points over the first 10:16.

After making only 4-of-20 second-half 3-pointers, the Badgers finished the night shooting 21-of-60 (35%) from the floor and 10-of-35 (28.6%) on threes, compared to 23-of-41 (56.1%) shooting by Illinois. The Illini went 6-of-12 (50%) behind the arc.


Bill Cole's third 3-pointer of the night, in transition, forced Bo Ryan to call timeout with 13:29 remaining when Illinois pushed it's lead to 10 points for the first time. Jordan Taylor responded, having his hand in 17 of UW's final 23 points. But Taylor also picked up his fourth foul with just under seven minutes left, which forced some different defensive assignments and allowed McCamey to run amock.

It's true that Wisconsin got absolutely no favors from the referees in the contest either. My jaw dropped after several whistles, including one of the most phantom fouls ever going against Mike Bruesewitz on Meyers Leonard's dunk. That was of course followed by a bad lane violation call on the ensuing missed free throw. McCamey got occasional star treatment as well.

I give Taylor credit for actually guarding McCamey, whereas the Illinois point guard ducked Taylor for most of the night. Weber usually opted for D.J. Richardson or Brandon Paul instead. Cole won the battle of tall, white utility shooters over Jarmusz, finishing with 11 points and four rebounds to TJ's six points and zero boards.

Leuer scored a very quiet 19 points and that is not a compliment. Frankly, he has missed a lot of his most open shots from inside the arc so far this season. You also saw Mike Davis block his shot from the weak side due to Leuer's tendency to "settle in" to an obvious post move/shot attempt. If Leuer could disguise his intentions a little longer or simply execute those inside moves more quickly, he will have an easier time scoring here and on the next level.

As far as Wisconsin's supporting cast, Mike Bruesewitz's mark -- whether Cole, Mike Tisdale or someone else -- seemed to get too many open looks. He'll need to clean up those mental errors, like failing to box out. Josh Gasser continues to be completely ineffective on offense, opening the door for Rob Wilson to gain more playing time.