Bigs stop Wilkinson

Troy Stanger

Troy Stanger

By Lisa Koulias

Coming into Saturday’s game against the Illini, senior forward Mike Wilkinson averaged 13.9 points a game for his Badgers.

But on Saturday, Wilkinson could only get four attempts and eight points, as his team fell to Illinois for the second time this season, 70-59 at Assembly Hall.

And in a game where Illinois’ guards did most of the scoring, Illinois’ bigs should get credit for their defense, as they snapped Wilkinson’s streak of 14 consecutive games in double-figures.

“They did a great job,” said Illinois guard Deron Williams. “He’s a big part of their offense, a big key. Jack (Ingram) came in and gave us some valuable minutes. We tried to force him out, off the block a little bit and when he started to make his moves we came down and doubled him.”

James Augustine, who had his worst Big Ten effort of the year, scored just four points and grabbed six rebounds. But the junior forward played a career-high tying 38 minutes, and held Wilkinson to four shots and only two points in the second half.

“James got to exhaustion,” said coach Bruce Weber. “He doesn’t get the stats with the points and that, but he really defended. He fought him on the post, didn’t let him get easy touches, didn’t let him get into position.

We always tell guys that if there is a good player, play defense before he catches it. That makes it much easier on you.”

Home court

While the Illinois basketball team is breaking records each game, the fans had an opportunity to put their footprints in the history books too.

At Saturday’s game, Illinois fans set an Assembly Hall attendance record with the largest basketball crowd in school history with 16,865 fans in attendance.

“It was excellent,” Dee Brown said of the crowd. “We got here at 7:30 and you had people waiting outside, ready to get into the game. That gets your energy up when people come out to support you. It means a lot. Our fans love us and we love them.”

Ranked vs. unranked

Saturday’s game was the last of Illinois regular season games against ranked opponents. It marked the seventh game this season that the Illini have beaten a ranked opponent.

The Illini have five games left against unranked Big Ten opponents.

“It may be the one thing that we talk about, that we don’t get up mentally for these games,” Weber said. “I don’t know if there is an advantage or disadvantage. We just have to play. It’s about us, not about anyone else. We have to continue concentrating and focusing.”

Where’s the love?

“Everyone in the country is waiting for Illinois to lose and thinks we’re not the best team in the country. Watch TV. They’ll show you; they’ll tell you. They’ll tell you all the time the No. 1 team is not us; that we’re playing in a weak conference. We know how good we are. We know people have to fear us when the time comes to play us. We can be the most overrated team, but we’re just going to continue to win.”

– Dee Brown on the lack of respect the Illini receive