After struggling out of the gate against Iowa, the Wisconsin Badgers came out on fire in their victory over Illinois. A fast start and balanced scoring attack locked up Wisconsin's 16th win of the season with a 95-70 victory over Illinois, and further established themselves as one of the best in the conference.
It was clear that Wisconsin wanted to attack the basket early in the first half. Frank Kaminsky did just that, hitting the first two shots, then later kicking it out to Sam Dekker for an open look. Because of some early threes from Rayvonte Rice and Joseph Bertrand, this game remained close through the first 5 minutes. After that, the Badgers started to heat up.
With 14:18 left in the half, Wisconsin led 13-10. Next thing you know, there's 8:14 left on the clock, and Wisconsin led 31-10. That 18-point swing wasn't a fluke; Wisconsin merely proved why they're so good. It seemed like Wisconsin's first step was simply quicker that the Illinois defenders. They got to the rim with ease for a total of 17 free throws, and shot well from the line, hitting 14 of them. Their ball movement was also sublime. They refused to settle for good shots, and worked hard for great shots. Once those shots came, everybody knocked them down, whether it be Bronson Koenig or Nigel Hayes. Hayes continued to impress, and hit both the mid-range jumper and a sweet layup with some fancy footwork underneath the basket.
In the first half, Illinois kept finding good looks, and kept making their way to the basket, but simply couldn't convert. They shot 27% that half, mostly from Bertrand's sharp shooting, and other than him, they were generally barren offensively. Nnanna Egwu looked lost on both ends of the floor. He looked uncomfortable offensively, and let Hayes dominate him both on defense and on the boards.
Wisconsin's 50 points were the most points Illinois has allowed in a half all season, and the scoreboard accurately represented how this game went. The first half was all-Badgers, and everybody looked much-improved from the Iowa struggle.
As the second half began, Illinois came out hot, opening with a 13-5 run. However, their offense mainly consisted of Bertrand and Rice, so they never really threatened the Badgers' lead. With 16:00 remaining in the second half, Bertrand's 16 points and Rice's 17 points accounted for 33 of the Illini's 38 points. If you compare that with Wisconsin's ridiculous scoring depth, it's not hard to see why the Badgers maintained a hefty lead throughout the half.
The Badgers kept attacking, and kept finding their way to the foul line as the second half persisted. Because of this, Illinois' stars found their way into foul trouble. An interesting moment in basketball entropy occurred with about 12:30 left in the half. It appeared that Egwu had been called for his 3rd foul, and coach John Groce took him out of the game. In fact, the refs took a look. and changed the foul to be on Joseph Bertrand, but Egwu remained on the bench. Immediately, the Badgers went down low to Kaminsky, and he converted a 3-point play from an easy layup off the glass. It was an interesting moment of coaching chess, as Bo took advantage of Illinois' weak frontcourt with Egwu on the bench. That series of unfortunate events was a microcosm for Illinois' struggles this game.
Traevon Jackson looked much improved from his tough performance against Iowa. He and Ben Brust had some excellent chemistry, as Jackson found Brust both cutting to the basket and behind the arc. In addition, he rarely turned the ball over and finished with the opposite hand around the rim very well. You knew he wasn't going to let his Iowa struggles carry through to this game, and he didn't let down.
As the blowout carried on, Illinois had 5 freshman on the floor, and Wisconsin had 4. It was a nice look for both fanbases at the future of their respective teams. The Wisconsin starters earned their rest. All of the starters but Gasser ended in double-figures. Dekker and Kaminsky were beasts down low, and Brust was lethal from behind the arc as usual.
Once Evan Anderson knocked down a 3, his first collegiate three-pointer, this game officially became insane. When he's knocking shots down, you're not winning that game. This was a truly remarkable performance for Wisconsin, as they dominated a very good Illinois squad. Wisconsin is 16-0, but awaits a tough matchup against Indiana in Bloomington. But if they play like they did tonight, they can beat anyone.