McCamey, Illini ready for ‘challenges’ against No. 11 Wisconsin

With just seven games remaining on the regular-season schedule, Illinois is on the road Tuesday with a goal no basketball team has achieved this season: defeat No. 11 Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.

The Badgers (18-5, 8-3 Big Ten) are coming off consecutive wins against Michigan State last Tuesday and a 62-44 victory at Michigan on Saturday.

But the Fighting Illini (16-8, 8-3) are riding a four-game winning streak that culminated in Saturday’s win over then-No. 5 Michigan State.

For junior center Mike Tisdale, the momentum from the weekend may be just what the Illini need to win at the Kohl Center.

“It’s been tough for a lot of teams to get a win in there, but we’re going to go up there with the attitude that we can win,” Tisdale said. “We just beat Michigan State, so hopefully the confidence carries over and we can go up there and do some damage.

“It’s pretty amazing to see what we can do when we actually come out fired up, ready to go,” Tisdale added.

Despite losing junior forward Jon Leuer to a wrist injury on Jan. 9, the Badgers haven’t missed a beat. In fact, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said the injury may have been a mixed blessing for Wisconsin.

“Obviously without Leuer, it caused some stress for their staff and their fans. But it’s turned out to be a benefit for them,” Weber said. “They’ve gone to the three guards. The guards are playing at a high level — they’re playing small ball, they’re spreading you. It’s allowed some other guys to really step up.”

The three guards are seniors Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon and sophomore Jordan Taylor. In Leuer’s absence, Hughes has stepped up to lead the Badger offense, averaging 15.5 points while grabbing 4.7 rebounds per game. Bohannon averages 11.1 points, while Taylor averages 10.0.

The impact of the three-guard lineup on Wisconsin’s game plan isn’t lost on Illinois junior forward Bill Cole, either.

“Those guys are a huge part of their offense,” Cole said. “And with that swing offense they run, they do everything. They run the floor, they post up, they come off the screens, so we got to be strapped in mentally on defense.”

Entering play Tuesday, Illinois sits in a three-way tie with No. 13 Ohio State and No. 11 Wisconsin for second place in the Big Ten.

Tuesday’s contests could mark a shake-up in the Big Ten standings, though, as No. 10 Michigan State, which holds a one-game lead in the conference, will face Purdue following the Illinois-Wisconsin showdown.

A win at Wisconsin could mean more than just a move up in the Big Ten standings for the Illini, though.

“It’s one thing to get a home victory against a top-20 team, but to get a road victory against one of those teams — we’ve got one, that was Clemson, on our belt — it obviously would be a nice thing for our resume,” Weber said. “It was great Saturday, I let them enjoy it. But now you have to come back and get refocused and see if you can find a way to do something that’s very rare, and that’s winning up in Madison.”

Junior guard Demetri McCamey, the co-Big Ten Player of the Week, is looking forward to the test.

“I like these games. They’re challenges,” McCamey said. “And that’s one thing about good players and good teams, they like challenges. Hopefully we can overcome this challenge and beat Wisconsin.”