GAME NOTES: After falling out of the AP Top-25, the Wisconsin Badgers will attempt to find their footing when they contend with the Illinois Fighting Illini in Big Ten Conference action at the State Farm Center.
The Badgers, who were once the third-ranked team in the country, have suffered quite a fall. A 59-58 loss to Ohio State on Saturday was the fifth in the last six games for UW, which went from No. 14 to unranked in the last week. Tests against Michigan State and Minnesota are next on the schedule for the struggling Badgers.
As bad as things haven gotten for Wisconsin, they have been worse for Illinois, which has dropped seven straight contests, all in league play. The Illini are now 13-9 overall, including a miserable 2-7 mark against the Big Ten. They will visit Penn State and Nebraska in their next two bouts.
One of the losses during Illinois' recent streak came against Wisconsin, which earned a 95-70 triumph at the Kohl Center on Jan. 8. The victory was the sixth straight for the Badgers over the Illini, who still lead the all-time series by a 110-81 margin.
Traevon Jackson missed a free throw that would have tied things up with 15 seconds to play against Ohio State. It was one of many wasted opportunities for the Badgers, who only connected on 40 percent of their shots from the floor, including a 3-of-17 showing from 3-point range.
Although Wisconsin has been struggling to pick up wins, it has still maintained its edge on defense. The Badgers are only allowing 63.3 ppg on 42.5 percent shooting this season. However, they have not been overly impressive offensively (73.5 ppg), especially recently, reaching 75 points just once in the last six games. Sam Dekker (13.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Ben Brust (13.2 ppg) are the team's top scoring threats, although they combined for just 17 points against Ohio State, 13 of which came from Brust. Frank Kaminsky (12.9 ppg, 6 rpg) and Jackson (10.8 ppg) are also averaging in double figures.
Illinois' most recent setback was an 81-74 defeat to Iowa. Joseph Bertrand scored a game-high 20 points in the losing effort, during which the Illini hit 44.6 percent of their shots from the floor. The real difference in the game was on the boards, where Illinois was on the short end of a 41-28 differential.
The Illini are even weaker than the Badgers on offense, ranking next-to-last in the league in both scoring (67.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (.413). Illinois has played solid defense though, surrendering only 64.1 ppg on 41.5 percent shooting. Rayvonte Rice (16.5 ppg) leads the way for the Illini. He finished with 13 points and nine rebounds against Iowa, but hit just 4-of-12 shots from the field. Tracy Abrams (12 ppg) and Bertrand (11 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are the only other players on the team averaging in double figures, and two of just five putting in more than five ppg.
This is an important game for Wisconsin, which desperately needs a win to prove that it is much better than its recent struggles indicate. Illinois will keep things close, but the Badgers have what it takes to win.
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