Reeling Wisconsin will try to regroup when it plays host to Illinois in a matchup of teams heading in opposite directions on Saturday at Madison, Wis.
Since climbing to No. 14 in the nation, Wisconsin (12-7, 4-5 Big Ten) has lost five of its last six in a slide that began with 79-69 loss at Illinois. The normally stingy Badgers broke down defensively in a 73-55 loss at Maryland on Wednesday.
Illinois (14-6, 5-4) is starting to come together again after replacing all five starters from last season’s Big Ten co-champs. The Fighting Illini have won five of six, including a 69-60 home victory over Ohio State on Tuesday.
Illinois has won five straight against Wisconsin after the Badgers had won 15 in a row in the series.
The Badgers’ lack of depth was exposed during a recent three-game losing streak without leading scorer Tyler Wahl. He returned in a 63-60 win over Penn State on Jan. 17 but starting guard Max Klesmit was elbowed in the face in that game and did not play in consecutive defeats.
Klesmit returned to practice this week, but his status for Saturday has not been announced.
After trailing 32-28 at halftime, Wisconsin allowed Maryland to shoot 60.0 percent in the second half. The Terps had a 38-22 advantage in points in the paint during the game.
“The start of the second half is really where I didn’t think we were near as physical and defensive-minded there early. We let things happen way too easily,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “Not stopping dribble penetration, not physical enough on the ball, getting too spread out at times. … And then just not drawing a line there in the paint.”
Freshman guard Connor Essegian, who has started the last three games, had a career-high 19 points vs. Maryland, hitting 4 of 6 from 3-point range. Wahl averages 12.8 points and 6.1 boards and Steven Crowl adds 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Illinois pounded Ohio State on the boards 44-30, with 14 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points. The Illini also had 16-1 edge in fast-break points.
“Two things we talked about a ton was transition — keeping them out of that was huge tonight, and I think we were really good that area — and rebounding the basketball,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood.
Terrence Shannon Jr. averages a team-best 18.0 points, with Matthew Mayer at 10.6 and Dain Dainja at 10.1. Coleman Hawkins averages 6.2 rebounds.
In the Illini’s victory over the Badgers in early January, Shannon had 24 points and Hawkins added 20, including a career-best six 3-pointers. Hawkins has hit just one 3-pointer in each game since, going 5 for 21.
–Field Level Media