‘Wounded Badgers’ maul Illini

Wounded Badgers maul Illini

By Jeremy Werner

MADISON, Wis. – Bruce Weber warned that Wisconsin, experiencing a six-game losing streak before Thursday’s matchup, was a “wounded badger” that could be “very mean and dangerous.”

The Illinois coach’s prognostication proved right as the Badgers packed a vicious bite, mauling the No. 23 Illini 63-50 at the Kohl Center. Illinois (18-5, 6-4 in Big Ten) failed to take sole possession of second place in the Big Ten, dropping its fourth consecutive road game.

“They took it to us and played well, played like a team desperate for a win,” Weber said. “It was one of those nights; I guess we had no answers. Since the Purdue game (on Dec. 30), we haven’t played very well on the road. We have to have a mentality that we have to stop people.”

The Illini defense could not stifle the fire from Wisconsin’s Jason Bohannon hands. The junior guard scored 20 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers.

“We thought sooner or later Bohannon would get going,” Weber said. “We hoped it wouldn’t be against us.”

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The Illini offense struggled once again, shooting 32.8 percent from the field. Illinois has shot under 36 percent in five of its last six halves of basketball.

Demetri McCamey (12 points) and Mike Davis (14 points and 11 rebounds) were the lone bright spots for the Illini offense, though the sophomores combined for seven turnovers. Guards Trent Meacham and Alex Legion continued their struggles, combining for 4-of-17 shooting.

“It’s been like that for a while now,” Weber said of the shooting struggles. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t have an answer. If I did, I would correct it.”

For the first time this season, Illinois had more turnovers (12) than assists (nine).

Wisconsin (13-9, 4-6) had big contributions from their post players. Jon Leuer, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, had 15 points and senior forward Marcus Landry added 16 for the Badgers.

Illinois had opportunities to come back in the second half as Wisconsin shot but remained cold from the field. Wisconsin led by double digits the entire second half.

“We didn’t take good shots. We took some quick ones in that stretch. Then we didn’t get back on defense and let them get some open looks,” Weber said.

Illinois rushed to a 7-2 early lead, but Wisconsin rattled off a 15-4 run to take the momentum which they never gave up. The Illini trailed 37-25 at the half, their largest halftime deficit of the season. Bohannon shot a perfect 5-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half for 15 points.

The Illini are now in a scrum of teams fighting for a higher seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. They are in a four-way tie with Penn State, Minnesota and Ohio State for third place in the conference.

Illinois will look to rebound at home against second-place Purdue (17-5, 6-3) at the Assembly Hall on Sunday at noon. The Illini defeated the Boilermakers 71-67 in overtime at Mackey Arena in their Big Ten opener on Dec. 30.

But Weber said the Illini need learn how to win on the road to stay in the hunt in the Big Ten.

“It just seems like our body language changes (on the road),” Weber said. “We don’t gut it out when things go against us. We seem to wilt a bit. I don’t know what the reason is. We are young, but at the same time now there’s no excuse. You’re deep into the season. You’ve been through it. Now you have to change.”