In a disheartening performance, the Badgers (8-5 Big Ten, 14-6 overall) were crushed by the Illinois Fighting Illini (9-3 Big Ten, 13-5 overall) by a score of 75-60 in Champaign, Ill. The Badgers were outrebounded 46-20 and shot just 4-24 from three-point range.
The game was in the Illini’s hands from the opening tip. It was immediately evident that sophomore center Kofi Cockburn would dominate the Badgers on both sides of the court. The 7 foot, 285-pound native of Kingston, Jamaica dominated down low, schooling both senior forward Nate Reuvers and redshirt senior center Micah Potter.
“Once he gets it deep, there’s not a whole lot you can do there,” said Reuvers about Cockburn. “The main thing is don’t let him catch it but that’s easier said than done.”
Cockburn ended the game with 23 points on 10/13 shooting and 14 rebounds.
While Cockburn’s ferocious slams stole the show, fellow future-NBA Draft pick Ayo Dosunmu was working his own magic from the wing. The junior from Chicago notched the Illini’s first triple-double since 2001 with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.
“[Dosunmu is] a pro. Guys wanna know what life is like at the next level, they just saw it,” said head coach Greg Gard postgame. “The other guys, we did a decent job on, but those guys are on another level … Ayo is one of the best guards in the country, and you obviously saw all the things he can do.”
The two-man game of Dosunmu and Cockburn is what made Illinois the No. 12 team in the country, and those two are the ones that are going to propel them further. The elite passing ability of Dosunmu paired with the size and athleticism of Cockburn makes their pick and roll as indefensible as the existence of "Cats" (2019).
“They just kept going back to that same play,” said Reuvers. “Kofi setting the ball screen for Ayo … we gotta figure out how to stop that play.”
It wasn’t just the excellent play of Illinois’ stars that hurt the Badgers; they beat themselves just as much. In the first half, they shot 0-9 from distance, even though most of them were good threes worth taking any day.
“We got a lot of really good looks,” said redshirt senior point guard D’Mitrik Trice. “We got a lot of really good shooters and I'm gonna continue to harp on guys to take the open ones.”
Part of what was so disheartening about this loss is that the Badgers kept the tempo at their speed rather than letting the Illini dictate the pace, but controlling that aspect of the game wasn’t enough to overcome severe mismatches and ice-cold shooting.
“We had the pace at the tempo we wanted,” said Gard. “You gotta be able to put your ball in the basket, and that ignites your defense … our counter to what Cockburn can do in the paint is our ability to stretch the floor, but you gotta knock them down.”
The Badgers have a long break to process this loss before they return to the court next Thursday in Lincoln, Neb. to face the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is 0-5 in Big Ten play as of the publication of this story.