They hadn’t played in a week. They were fully healthy. Their opponent’s best player was out with a broken nose. None of it seemed to matter for about 38 minutes of the game between the No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (16-9 overall, 10-8 Big Ten) and the No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini (18-6 overall, 14-4 Big Ten).
The Badgers weren’t shooting well and couldn’t stop Kofi Cockburn from scoring down low but then D’Mitrik Trice decided to turn into Reggie Miller against the Knicks and scored 19 straight points in the last 2:12 of the game to give UW a chance. It ended up being all for naught as Illinois won 74-69, but Trice should still hold his head high after his Senior Day performance.
Here are some observations, stats and highlights from Wisconsin’s loss on Saturday.
- We have to discuss Trice’s game first. He had 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting (6-of-9 from three) with two assists and a steal. In the second half he scored 25 points, including 19 in the last 2:12 of the game to almost single-handedly drag Wisconsin across the finish line. Sadly, Illinois didn’t miss their free throws and were able to keep the Badgers at bay, but that shouldn’t discount what Trice did. For his last game at the Kohl Center, Trice turned into a human flame-thrower and gave Badgers fans an awesome memory.
- I think this quote from Trice is illuminating and hopefully dictates how he’ll play for the rest of the season. He has proven to be one of the few players on the team who can get his own shot and also make some from time to time. Obviously, as a point guard, he is in charge of distributing the ball and getting his teammates going but he also needs to realize that he is the best scoring option on the team most nights.
D'Mitrik Trice on the last two minutes: I don't know what's going through my mind. I just knew we needed to hit some buckets and make some plays to put us in the position we were in.— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) February 27, 2021
“I just knew we needed to hit some buckets and some plays,” Trice said...he needs to realize that the “we” might have to be “I” moving forward if the Badgers are going to steal a game from Purdue or Iowa to end the regular season.
- 4:04, 2-7, Illinois, loss
3:18, 5-4, Northwestern, win
4:30, 3-11, Iowa, loss
4:30, 5-8, Michigan, loss
4:22, 7-10, Nebraska, win
4:20, 4-11, Illinois, loss
3:13, 7-7, Penn State, win
4:03, 7-7, Penn State, loss
These are the scores of the games at the time the first substitutions are made by Greg Gard over the past eight games. There has been a lot of discussion online about the starting lineup and who should be starting and while most people know that who finishes the game is a greater indication of who the coach trusts, who starts the game is still important.
Only once in the past eight games did the Badgers have a lead at the time of their first substitution and it was only a one-point lead...against a terrible Northwestern team. The interesting part about this is that Gard has changed the starting lineup recently! The two PSU games and the first Illinois game featured Micah Potter in the starting lineup and the last five games have seen Nate Reuvers get the start.
Would putting Jonathan Davis in the starting five make a change? At this point, that seems to be the only other viable option to shake up the opening lineup but it’s hard to say if that would actually make any difference. It almost seems the like team takes a while to “warm up” to the game and doesn’t come out of the locker room with the requisite focus and competitiveness from the tip.
And honestly...that’s a leadership problem. Either Gard or one of the ::double checks notes:: four seniors in the starting lineup needs to make a change and fix how the Badgers play in the opening minutes of the game. While they are never down an insurmountable amount at the first substitution, the Badgers aren’t a team built to make big comebacks and little deficits at the beginning can quickly turn into bigger deficits if something doesn’t change on the court.
- Outside of Trice, the other four members of the starting five scored 15 points combined (on 5-of-31 shooting, 1-of-11 from three). Yikes.
- Micah Potter played well again. He scored 15 points (5-of-12 shooting, 2-of-8 from three), grabbed six rebounds, dished out one assist, had a block and two steals. While his defense on pick and rolls and against Kofi Cockburn wasn’t impeccable, he was still better than usual and was also a team-high +7 for the game. He helped harangue Cockburn into three turnovers too. It would be nice if he made more of his threes, especially since most of them were good, lightly contested looks, but that could be said of the entire team (outside of Trice) on Saturday.
- In his return to the lineup after missing the past two games, Trevor Anderson was his usual solid self off the bench. He scored five points (2-of-3 shooting, 1-of-1 from three) grabbed an offensive rebound, dished out one assist and had one turnover. Nice to have him back on the floor, but he was not a difference maker in this contest.
- Wisconsin desperately tried to get Nate Reuvers going in this game, he had 10 shot attempts in a mere 16 minutes of playing time and the highest usage rate of any Badger, but he just couldn’t find the bottom of the basket regularly. He shot 0-of-3 from deep and 3-of-10 overall for the game. He had three offensive rebounds (four total), an assist and two blocked shots but was overall ineffectual. In his team-low 16 minutes of action he was also a team-worse -14.
- Another troubling trend that continued for the Badgers was the inability to finish at the rim. Wisconsin was 7-of-14 at the tin with Tyler Wahl being a particularly poor 1-of-4. Getting easy buckets would make everything for this team work more smoothly but they just...don’t do it.
Wisconsin got caught over helping and leaving open corner shooters way too many times vs Illinois yesterday. Watch Wahl on this play slowly drift up to bump Cockburn, Ford thinks he has Cockburn and that Wahl is going out top, and NOBODY guards Williams in the corner. Awful. pic.twitter.com/9EEgxXMMn6— Daniel Olinger (@dan_olinger) February 28, 2021
- Wahl was active on the glass, pulling in five boards, and played solid defense (for the most part) but he had an overall forgettable game. Aleem Ford too. They combined to go 2-of-12 for five points.
- Brad Davison was a disaster on offense but was highly active on defense, recording five steals on the game and led the team in stop percentage.
- Jonathan Davis had a similar game to Davison. Didn’t score much, rebounded well and played good defense. Davis had three steals, the team had 13 on the game btw, and was second on the team in stops behind Davison.
- Speaking of all those steals, the Illini turned the ball over a whopping 20 times on the game and that is the only reason that their lead wasn’t larger in the first half. They make some baffling decisions with the ball and I found myself shouting in dismay over several Andre Curbelo pass attempts.
- Wisconsin was dominated on the glass, losing the rebounding battle 43-30, although UW did have 11 offensive rebounds to the Illini’s seven. You’d think that would lead to Wisconsin having more second chance points but you would be wrong (10-7 Illini lead). Illinois also had 34 points in the paint compared to Wisconsin’s 20.
- It should also be noted that, outside of Trice, the rest of the team shot 4-of-22 (18.2%) from deep.
- Illinois’ clutch free throw shooting kept Trice from winning the game and the Illini made more free throws (19) than Wisconsin attempted (15), an old stat that the Badgers used to win regularly.
- This game was the same old story for the Badgers and I’d guess we’ll see more of the same over the last two games of the regular season. Nothing matters. Eat at Arby’s.