Badgers finally break loose
The mood was a welcome reprieve after what had been a frustrating stretch of basketball.
Mired in a six-game losing streak in which the Badgers looked out of sorts on defense, flat on offense and nowhere in sight down the stretch, the old Wisconsin finally showed up Thursday night.
The Badgers snapped their longest losing streak in 11 years and got their first win since Jan. 7, soundly executing on both sides of ball and finally figuring out the puzzle that had plagued them to earn a well-deserved, 63-50 victory over No. 23 Illinois.
“All of us on the team, I don’t think any of us had lost that many games in a row in our whole entire careers,” junior guard Jason Bohannon said. “It was tough, but we knew what we needed to work on. All those little things we were doing (tonight).”
It looked like the same old story in the opening minutes, with the visiting Illini opening up a 7-2 lead by the first media timeout. During the next 15-plus minutes, the Badgers got balanced scoring while delivering suffocating defense to spur a 35-18 run and give UW its first double-digit halftime lead since Jan. 15.
Bohannon’s shooting was one of the main reasons the Badgers (13-9, 4-6 Big Ten) shot 50 percent on field-goal attempts in the first half. He hit all four of his three-point shots and finished with a career-high 20 points.
Bohannon popped a three-pointer from the elbow, cutting the Illinois lead to 7-5. As it turned out, that was only the beginning for the senior, who nailed his next three first-half three-pointers to help the Badger lead swell to 14 points.
While going 6-for-7 from three-point range, Bohannon’s only flub was his failed dunk attempt early in the second half.
“I always tell him that he can’t dunk,” Landry said. “I guess he thought he was flying high today.”
Sophomore Jon Leuer, making his first career start in place of injured Keaton Nankivil (ankle), and Landry both added 10 first-half points and finished with 16 and 15, respectively.
“When you have a shooter like Jason on the outside, it’s going to free up some stuff on the inside,” Leuer said. “You could just feel the energy anytime he had an open shot. We looked for him to knock down the shots tonight.”
More importantly, after blowing a lead in the final three minutes in five of its last seven games, Wisconsin never lifted its foot off the gas against Illinois. The Badgers pushed the lead to as many as 17 points and never let the Illini get closer than 10.
“We needed to start fast and finish strong,” Bohannon said. “We’ve had times in games where we’d have a stretch where we didn’t play Wisconsin basketball. Tonight, we played a full 40 minutes and that really paid off for us, having a comfortable lead toward the end of the game.”
While the UW offense was sizzling, the defense against Illinois (18-5, 6-4) was stifling. Illinois ranked second in the Big Ten with 47.2-percent shooting, but Wisconsin held the Illini to 32.8 percent. The Badgers also had seven steals and forced 12 turnovers.
Wisconsin held sophomore point guard Demetri McCamey, who scored 25 points in the teams’ first meeting, a 64-57 Illinois win on Jan. 24, to only 12 points—with a big assist going to the one-on-one defense of Krabbenhoft.
“We were making them work for their shots and forcing tough jump shots,” Bohannon said. “Anytime when you’re on the defensive end and you’re forcing a team on offense to do that, you are playing to your own advantage. We’ve got to do that each and every game.”