Illini look to upset Badgers

By ME Online

For the Illinois basketball team, the season to this point has been riddled with injuries and games that got away. But following its 64-52 win against Minnesota on Wednesday – the team’s first Big Ten road victory – Illinois’ toughest test of the year could be happening at just the right time.

Although the Illini (14-6, 2-3) have lost games to ranked opponents Maryland, Arizona and most recently Ohio State, they see Saturday’s 1 p.m. battle with No. 2 Wisconsin as tough but doable.

“Definitely with all the disappointments we’ve had and so many close games, we know there’s no way we are going to blow them out,” said senior Warren Carter, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against Minnesota. “It’s going to be a close game.

“We’ve learned from our past failures. I think we can do it.”

Carter’s performance in Minneapolis came after Illinois gave up an 11-point halftime lead to Michigan State, something he took much of the blame for.

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“I just decided to be more aggressive toward the offensive end a little bit, (and) definitely some shots came my way. My teammates set some great screens for me,” Carter said. “Just being a senior, I felt like I disappointed my team against Michigan State. So I just did a lot of thinking and preparation for the game.”

Such preparation will be necessary for Saturday’s Paint the Hall Orange contest against the Badgers (18-1, 4-0). Wisconsin, coming off a 69-64 victory over Purdue, not only possesses experience but also has confidence, Carter said.

“When a team has confidence they have so much experience; they know each other real well,” Carter said.

The Badgers are led by Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Alando Tucker, who is averaging 19.5 points per game, along with Kammron Taylor, who is averaging 13.5 points per game.

Although Wisconsin recently received its highest ranking in school history and its roster is complemented by seven juniors and seniors, the Illini know what such a win for them could mean later in the year.

“Bottom line is, we haven’t been playing as well as we could, but we can’t worry about that. We just have to keep improving,” sophomore Trent Meacham said. “There’s not much more time left. If we want to make a move we have to go right now.”

This weekend’s game between the two schools slightly resembles the 2005 match-up, when the Illini traveled to Madison with a No. 1 ranking. Illinois grabbed a 75-65 win over then-No. 18 Wisconsin. The Illini, though, are looking to defend their home court better than the Badgers did two years ago.

“I’m excited about it. We have to have this game,” Carter said. “It’s going to be a tough battle.”

As much as the Illini are worried about defending one of the top teams in the country, the approach is just to play within the team’s system, Carter said.

“I’m just going to keep playing Illinois basketball and never going to say it’s going to be my night,” said Carter, referring to putting up the same type of numbers he did against Minnesota.

“I’m just going to keep playing within our system, and if it comes my way, it comes my way,” he added.