Illini bring streak to Madison

By Lisa Koulias

Tonight’s match up is such an anticipated game that ESPN moved it from its original spot at 6 p.m. to the prime time spot at 8 p.m.

Recognizing the hype surrounding this game, Illini head coach Bruce Weber cut off media access to the team until after the game.

“What I did was take the blunt of it away from the players,” Weber said of restricting media access. “I would rather have myself be mentally tired than them. I can recover, I don’t have to go out on the court and play.”

While everyone around campus and in the state of Illinois is looking forward to this game and its result, Weber is trying to keep his team in check and focused on the task at hand.

“I always tell them, ‘It’s not life or death,'” Weber said. “Whether we were playing Wake (Forest) or Cincinnati or whatever big game we played, I told them that it’s not life or death, that we just have to go out there and compete. It’s what we do.

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“It seems like the team loves the limelight, they love to have big games. (I tell them to) go and enjoy it and make it a special moment. Make it a masterpiece and one that you can always have in your memory bank forever. We haven’t talked about our streak, we talk about winning game by game, week by week, rising to the occasion and playing at that level.”

Watch out for Wilkinson

Leading the way for the Badgers is senior forward Mike Wilkinson. The Blue Mounds, Wis., native was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the second week in a row. He shared the honors with Luther Head last week.

Wilkinson is coming off a game in which he scored 28 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds in the Badgers’ 72-61 win over Michigan on Saturday. He has scored in double figures in 11 of the last 12 games.

“Not only do they have to do a good job defending him, but they are going to have to score and hold him accountable because he is such a good player,” Weber said in regards to his big guys stepping up. “He has a great understanding on how to play. We have to hold him accountable and make sure that he has to defend our big guys also.”

Series standing

Tonight’s meeting will be the 171st between the two teams. Illinois holds a 102-68 advantage, but Wisconsin holds a 50-36 advantage in games played in Madison.

The teams met three times last season, with Wisconsin winning two of those, including a 70-53 win at the Big Ten Championship game.

The Badgers’ leading scorer, Alando Tucker, is a Lockport, Ill., native. Illinois assistant coach Tracy Webster played at Wisconsin from 1992-94, and is the Badgers’ all-time leader in assists.