Badgers pick up much-needed win
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
CHAMPAIGN, Ill.--Wisconsin’s fifth Big Ten victory of the season was not a masterpiece from start to finish.
Bo Ryan and his players couldn’t care less, because you can’t be picky when you’ve lost five of your last six games and both your talent and toughness are open for debate.
Shaking off a two-game shooting slump by placing four players in double figures, UW ground out a 75-63 victory over Illinois on Tuesday night before a sparse crowd of 4,185 held down by a daylong snowstorm.
“Winning makes everything better,” said sophomore Sam Dekker, who had been 2 of 18 from 3-point range over his last six games but hit 4 of 7 against the Illini and finished with 16 points and four assists. “If we would have lost this game we would have been in a deeper hole.
“It was good to climb out of it a little bit and hopefully learn some things from this game and take it on to Sunday’s game.”
UW (18-5, 5-5 Big Ten) won for just the second time in its last seven games—both on the road. As a result, UW moved into a tie for fourth place with idle Northwestern (12-11, 5-5) and Ohio State (18-5, 5-5), which upset host Iowa, 76-69, Tuesday night.
The Badgers, who are 5-2 in road games and have beaten Illinois seven consecutive times, now prepare to host No. 9 Michigan State (19-3, 8-1) at noon Sunday.
Michigan State, which suffered a 64-60 nonconference loss Saturday against unranked Georgetown, hosts Penn State on Thursday.
The Illini (13-10, 2-8) suffered their eighth consecutive loss.
“Tonight we just weren’t good enough,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “It’s that simple. They were better.”
Guard Ben Brust had four of UW’s 11 turnovers but hit 6 of 6 free-throw attempts as UW hit 21 of 26 overall (80.8%), and he tied Dekker for team scoring honors with 16.
Traevon Jackson played a steady floor game and added 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and just one turnover. He hit 4 of 7 field-goal attempts and 5 of 7 free-throw attempts.
“I missed my first two shots—a 3 in the corner and an open layup,” Jackson said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. The next one is going in.’
“It was a good team effort tonight. It was good to come out here and just play hard. I think that was the biggest thing.
“We played hard. Took it one possession at a time.”
The Illini couldn’t contend with UW freshman Nigel Hayes, who scored 10 points in the opening half to help UW build a six-point lead and finished with 14 points. Hayes hit 5 of 7 field-goal attempts and 4 of 7 free-throw attempts.
“I would say my confidence is increasing,” said Hayes, who scored 17 points in UW’s one-point loss to Ohio State on Saturday. “That’s due in part to the team. They’ve been telling me to attack because I’m very hard to guard.”
Josh Gasser had only eight points, but six came on two key 3-pointers in the second half. He also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds to help UW win the rebounding battle, 31-25.
Frank Kaminsky scored only two points but grabbed seven rebounds and drew a critical charging call that wiped out a basket by Rayvonte Rice with 1:33 left and UW leading, 68-60.
Rice led the Illini with 24 points. Joseph Bertrand added 11 points and Nnanna Egwu had 10.
UW entered the night having made just 8 of 41 3-pointers and 33 of 102 shots overall in the last two games.
The Badgers hit 10 of 23 3s (43.5%) and 22 of 46 shots overall (47.8%). After Dekker hit a 3-pointer and Jackson added a tough pull-up jumper for a 68-60 lead with 1 minute 47 seconds left, UW sealed the victory by hitting 7 of 8 free-throw attempts.
According to the players, Ryan instructed the video crew to put together two sets of clips for Monday. The first was from a scene in the movie “Pleasantville” in which a group of players can’t make a shot at practice.
“Clang, clang, clang, clang,” Ryan said, imitating the scene.
The second was of the UW players hitting big shots earlier this season.
“Seeing the ball go through the hoop and putting it in a light (way),” Dekker said, “he showed everyone hitting a shot. He said you guys can hit shots. Let’s go do it.
“We were able to do that tonight.”