Illini lose to Badgers at home for first time in almost 10 years

By Jason Grodsky

In the seventh annual “Paint the Hall Orange” game at Assembly Hall, the Illini were unable to hold off the No. 2-ranked Wisconsin Badgers’ final run and couldn’t maintain a three-point lead with just over four minutes left to play.

The Badgers closed out the game with a 14-4 run, allowing them to squeak out a 71-64 victory over Illinois, ending its four-game losing streak to the Illini. The win also snapped Wisconsin’s seven-game losing streak at Assembly Hall dating back to Jan. 25, 1997.

This is the first time the Illini have lost more than two games at home since the 1998-99 season, and it’s the first time Illinois has dropped two conference games at home since that same season.

“I don’t think our home court advantage is slipping,” junior forward Shaun Pruitt said. “Our fans were great and they were probably the loudest that I’ve heard in awhile. It’s still a tough place to play and they were rattled for a second. We just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”

Free throws and points off turnovers make the difference

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Missed free throws have plagued the Illini all season, and Saturday’s game was no exception.

Illinois shot just 61 percent, 14-for-23, from the charity strip in the loss to the Badgers. Misses by senior guard Rich McBride and junior forward Brian Randle late in the game allowed Wisconsin to extend its lead and put the game out of reach in the final minute.

While Illinois struggled at the line, Wisconsin flourished, finishing 18-for-21 and making their last six free throws with just over two minutes to play.

Wisconsin also outscored the Illini 11-to-5 in points off turnovers, capitalizing on the few mistakes Illinois made, while only turning it over seven times in the hostile environment of the Assembly Hall.

“We only had nine turnovers that’s one of our best for the year but they only had seven turnovers,” Weber said. “Turnovers and free throws were probably the biggest difference makers.”

Tucker shines despite poor shooting

Wisconsin senior forward Alando Tucker was held to just 17 points, two below his average, on 6-of-18 shooting in the Badgers win over the Illini. But Tucker’s presence on the floor in the final minutes proved to be beneficial for Wisconsin down the stretch.

Following a free throw with 6:32 remaining in the game, Tucker did not score the rest of the game, but emerged as a distraction and got rebounds.

In the final five minutes of the game, Tucker grabbed four of his eight rebounds, two of which were offensive and one that led to a Wisconsin basket with 1:05 left to play that extended the Badgers lead to three.

“We knew he would get his points,” Randle said. “We just wanted to limit his scoring and for the most part we did a good job. He’s probably the best player in the country.”