No. 20 Wisconsin beats No. 16 Illinois 76-66
And that's a good thing, because slam dunks aren't exactly his specialty.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward nailed three 3-pointers in the second half of No. 20 Wisconsin's 76-66 victory over No. 16 Illinois on Saturday. And while Nankivil is emerging as a steady No. 3 scoring option to complement Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, it might be a while before he stops hearing about the slam dunk he missed in spectacular fashion down the stretch.
Badgers coach Bo Ryan noted that it wasn't the first time Nankivil has had a potential slam dunk bounce out of the basket this season.
"I'm hoping he doesn't do it three times," Ryan said.
Nankivil's missed dunk with 4:27 left was just one aesthetically displeasing aspect of a game that was hard-fought and physical but not exactly pretty.
Leuer scored 26 points and hit a critical 3-pointer down the stretch and Taylor added 22 for the Badgers (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten), who rebounded from an overtime loss at Michigan State.
Demetri McCamey scored 23 — going 17 for 21 from the free throw line — for the Illini (13-5, 3-2), who have lost two straight on the road after beginning conference play 3-0.
Taylor was 16 for 18 from the free throw line for the Badgers in a game that was marred by frequent foul calls.
Asked if his team had trouble getting into a rhythm because of all the fouls, Ryan joked that if the game was a dance, they would have called it off. Then he tried to one-up himself in the one-liner department.
"If that was the Gong Show, they would have hooked us all," Ryan said.
Ryan then felt compelled to explain to younger members of his media audience that the Gong Show was an early version of reality television, saying it was kind of like American Idol.
"Google it," Ryan said.
But aside from a few displays of disgust during the game, Ryan didn't fault the officials.
"How would you like to have to officiate that?" Ryan said.
Illinois came into Saturday's game as one of the nation's top shooting teams, especially from 3-point range.
But coming off a lukewarm shooting night in a loss at Penn State, Illinois shot a season-low 30.2 percent from the field Saturday.
"When people take things away, now you've got to be a little more patient," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.
McCamey said he expects the Illini to respond well against Michigan State at home Tuesday.
"We had a tough week here on the road, so now we've got to regroup and come home and get ready for Michigan state and win home games," McCamey said. "As long as you win your home games and try to steal some on the road, you'll be in good shape."
Illinois guard D.J. Richardson continued to struggle, shooting 0 for 4 from the field Saturday. Richardson also was 0 for 4 in the loss at Penn State.
"D.J., really, he's lost a little confidence," Weber said. "Struggled, really, on both ends of the court. I think he's let his offense affect it."
Illinois also played without highly regarded freshman Jereme Richmond, whom Weber said did not play because of "personal issues" that caused him to miss practice. Weber expects him back for Tuesday night.
Brandon Paul added 15 for the Illini.
Weber said Leuer was the difference.
"He was the key to the game," Weber said. "Every time they needed a basket, they were able to go to him, and he was able to respond."
Wisconsin evened the season series with the Illini, who beat the Badgers 69-61 on Jan. 2.
Leading by 2 at halftime, Wisconsin took control of the game with a 10-0 run to begin the second half.
Nankivil hit a pair of early 3-pointers, helping the Badgers recover from their ugly 1-for-12 shooting performance from 3-point range in the first half.
McCamey's ability to drive and draw fouls kept Illinois in the game, and Wisconsin's lead didn't truly seem safe until Leuer nailed a 3-pointer with 5:10 left.
Nankivil scored 14 points, but that's not what most people will remember.
He found himself with a wide-open path to the basket and drove the lane — something Ryan wants him to do more frequently — but somehow his forceful attempt at a slam dunk rattled off the rim for a miss with less than five minutes left in the game.
Taylor said the spectacular miss was "kind of funny" — only because it didn't come back to bite the Badgers.
"I kind of felt bad for him," Taylor said. "This was the second time that happened to him this year. I've never heard of getting yelled at for dunking the ball too hard. That's just bad luck. He knows he's got to put it through, that's just one of those things."