Would have, could have, should have for Illinois men’s basketball

Illinois+Kipper+Nichols+%282%29+goes+up+for+a+layup+during+the+game+against+Wisconsin+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Tuesday%2C+January+31.+The+Illini+lost+57-43.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Kipper Nichols (2) goes up for a layup during the game against Wisconsin at State Farm Center on Tuesday, January 31. The Illini lost 57-43.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

At the under-eight TV timeout in the first half of Wisconsin’s 57-43 victory over the Illinois men’s basketball team, the Illinettes came to center court for a dance routine.

They danced to “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. While I’m almost 100 percent certain it was only by coincidence, the song selection is an accurate description of the Wisconsin beat down against Illinois.

Many games this season have been painful to watch, but the Illini continue to survive. There’s always another game to be optimistic about.

Tonight was no exception.

Wisconsin came in as seven-point favorites, yet I still thought tonight could be Illinois’ one shining moment after Wisconsin squirmed by Rutgers recently and the Illini were boasting a strong home record.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    But instead the Illini merely survived. Again.

    Tonight’s game felt like watching a boring roller coaster. Wisconsin got out to a double-digit lead, Illinois would cut into it and then it would happen all over again. This was all happening as the life and energy of the State Farm Center escaped, like air deflating from a basketball.

    When the Badgers were on their back, the Illini waited for them to get up. In the last 10 minutes of the first half, the Badgers tallied only seven points. During that time Illinois only cut into the lead by three, scoring 10-points.

    Wisconsin’s scoring woes during those 10 minutes were a survive-and-advance moment for Illinois. The Illini failed to advance and instead continued to survive.

    When Wisconsin starts out as hot as they did, the Illini should have pounced. The Badgers started the game shooting about 67 percent from the field. During its 10-minute drought, Wisconsin shot 24 percent and secured seven offensive rebounds.

    That can’t happen. Find a body, box them out, crash the glass. It’s that simple. While Wisconsin struggled and Illinois didn’t step on the gas, Malcolm Hill only put up two shots and Maverick Morgan only shot the ball once.

    When the No. 10 team in the country can’t get anything to click, that’s when Illinois’ top-two scorers should have been taking initiative and putting up shot attempts. Hill and Morgan finished the night with 10 points each.

    Things got interesting with about 12 minutes left in the game. For the first time all night the Illini and State Farm Center had life. A few possessions went Illinois’ way and Wisconsin’s lead was only six.

    That stretch of about three-minutes was one of the greatest moments this season. There was energy, there was fight and there was a glimmer of hope that this game was going to end in an upset.

    It was short lived as Wisconsin marched on, but it was special. That’s the feeling that Illinois should strive to have for every possession of every game. It can only be accomplished if the Illini don’t wait until the second half to get things going.

    Despite it being another game Illinois survived, the fans who endured watching the entire game should enjoy the fact they witnessed an NCAA-bound Wisconsin team. Wisconsin should be the team Illinois aspires to be.

    The Badgers play fundamental basketball as a cohesive unit, without any true college superstars. Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter were all three-stars as high-school recruits. Happ finished tonight with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

    Maybe next game the Illinettes can add “We are the Champions” to their routine. Let’s be honest, it will probably be “It’s the end of the World”.

    Matt is a Junior in Business.

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier