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Wisconsin men’s basketball: Illinois recap

Laughable Wisconsin defensive effort leads to blowout loss against the Fighting Illini.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team (14-6 overall, 8-5 Big Ten) got back to their winning ways this past week with a crucial 16-point win over Penn State on Tuesday.

While that Penn State win was important for building momentum, Saturday afternoon’s top-20 matchup with the No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini represented one of the biggest games remaining on the Badgers schedule in terms of the conference race.

Featuring two of the top teams in the Big Ten, both Wisconsin and Illinois were desperately in need of a win in order to grab at least a share of second place in the conference standings with a month left to play.

In the first of two contests between these two teams this season, it was the Fighting Illini who would secure the first win in the series in emphatic fashion.

In the first couple minutes, Illinois was able to make five of their first seven shots to take a 11-4 lead, and force an early Wisconsin timeout. Not much would change over the course of the four minutes to follow, as Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn continued to score at will for the Illini.

Wisconsin was able to hang around though to keep it within six with just over seven minutes remaining in the half due to some improved defense and an extended scoring drought by the Illinois.

The Badgers had a huge opportunity to cut into that lead after a flagrant call on Da’Monte Williams and an extra offensive possession, but they were only able to manage one point (out of a possible six) as Tyler Wahl went 1-of-3 from the free throw line.

From that point forward though it was all Illinois as the Badgers went 1-of-8 to close out the half, and the Fighting Illini closed strong to take a 13-point advantage into the intermission.

The Badgers were able to make a few shots coming out of the break, but the inability to get stops continued to haunt them as Illinois added to their advantage in the first five minutes of the second half.

A nice run by Wisconsin got the scoring differential back to single-digits with 13 minutes remaining in the second half, as the Badgers were able to take advantage of some improved offense and Illinois turnovers.

Wisconsin was able to cut the lead to only seven, but three turnovers in 1:13 plowed the way for Kofi Cockburn to take advantage in a hurry. Just like that the Illinois lead was back to 12 points with 10:52 to play.

Nate Reuvers and D’Mitrik Trice would continue to keep the Badgers afloat over the next couple minutes and get the difference down to seven, but a tough call on Reuvers sent him to the bench with his fourth foul with eight minutes remaining in the game.

From that moment forward Illinois started to pull away. Wisconsin was unable to get a stop on the defensive end for most of the game, and in the final handful of minutes it was no different.

In the end, Illinois would go on to win 75-60 behind a triple-double from Ayo Dosunmu and an NCAA leading 13th double-double from Kofi Cockburn.

Notable stat lines:

  • D’Mitrik Trice —> 22 points (9-of-18 from the floor), two rebounds, one assists
  • Nate Reuvers —> 11 points (5-of-10 from the floor), two rebounds, four fouls
  • Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois) —> 21 points (6-of-12 from the floor), 12 rebounds, 12 assists
  • Kofi Cockburn —> 23 points (10-of-13 from the floor), 14 rebounds

Three things that stood out:

No. 1: Two-headed attack

Wisconsin knew they were going to have to slow Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn if they wanted to win.

In the first half the dynamic duo for Illinois outscored the entire Wisconsin team 25 to 23, and made 10 of their 15 shots. In fact, Dosunmu and Cockburn outrebounded (18 to 11) and had more assists (four to two) than the Badgers as well.

Cockburn went into halftime with a double-double and dictated everything inside. Even when the Badgers got into the lane players were hesitant to go up on the talented big man, including a Brad Davison fade away with no one around him in the paint.

In the second half very little changed, as the two stars of Illinois of went on to score 21 and 23 apiece, while Dosunmu also added 12 rebounds and 12 assists, and Cockburn recorded 14 rebounds.

Having two all-conference players that are no doubt NBA prospects in the starting lineup proved to be all the Fighting Illini needed against the struggling Badgers.

No. 2: Three-point shooting

Neither team was able to do much from deep in the first half, but for a Wisconsin team that has at times lived by the three-ball, going 0-of-9 from long range was absolutely debilitating.

Wisconsin didn’t record their first three-point make until two minutes into the second half on a Nate Reuvers make, and did not find their form from three all game long.

All in all, the Badgers finished 4-of-24 from deep, and also were ice cold from the free throw line as well. Shooting woes on the road can pop up from time to time, but anytime you make only 26.7% on that many attempts the chances of victory are extremely low.

No. 3: Rebounding

While the higher number of misses by the Badgers contributed to the rebounding discrepancy, Illinois thoroughly outplayed Wisconsin on the boards all game long.

In the first half alone, the Fighting Illini grabbed 28 rebounds total compared to only 11 by the Badgers, and also grabbed six offensive rebounds and converted them into six second chance points.

For the game, Wisconsin only finished with 19 total rebounds and allowed 11 offensive boards and 15 second chance points. The Badgers have had their fair share of struggles on the glass this season, but this was one of the worst rebounding performances in recent program history, as Illinois outrebounded Wisconsin 46-19 for the game.

Kofi Cockburn was absolutely dominant inside, and the two leading rebounders for the Badgers were both guards.

Up next: The Badgers will be on the road again for a matchup with Nebraska. The game is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, with tip-time set for 4 p.m. CST on ESPN2.