The No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (10-8 Big Ten, 16-9 overall) showed heart late in the game against the No. 5 Illinois Illini (15-4 Big Ten, 19-6 overall) to climb back from a 12 point deficit in just two minutes, but it wasn’t enough to pull out the win in the end, losing 74-69.
The Badgers found themselves down 62-50 with 2:30 left to play in the game — Illinois had held that lead for essentially the entire game — but the Badgers weren’t willing to take the loss lying down. D’Mitrik Trice, who led Wisconisn with 29 points on the day, put up 19 of those points in the last 2:09 of the game, caning five three’s and hitting all his free throws to will the Badgers back within a point.
“I don’t even know what was going through my head at the end there,” Trice said after the game. “I just had to see that first one fall through and then focus on the rest of the shots after that. When I see one go through I know the next one has a higher chance of falling too, so I went to hunt my shot.”
With the score at 70-69 after the crazy run, Illinois was still up with seven seconds left in the game, and things got weird.
Wisconsin fouled on the inbounds to put Illinois at the line with 5.7 seconds left. Trent Fraizer hit both of his free throws to put Illinois up three. Trevor Anderson then gets the ball after the inbound, passes up a contested three and instead gets fouled and sent to the line for two shots. However, an Illinois player decided to walk up to the Badgers huddle after the foul, which led to a double technical on both teams when coach Alando Tucker responded to the Illini player.
Anderson then took and missed both of his free throws, Illinois controlled the rebound with 1.3 seconds left and ended with the 74-69 victory.
“The effort at the end gave me a lot of hope [going forward],” Micah Potter said. “We got really hot in our last eight games of last year, and we still have eight games left. We have to be able to make shots, and I was bad today, but that effort is something we can be proud of.”
Wisconsin started the game, unfortunately characteristically at this point in the season, by failing to score much of anything in the opening minutes of the first half. The Badgers trailed Illinois 13-2 after seven minutes, and were at one point just 4-23 from the floor.
Starting slow has become a major problem for Wisconsin, who has talked for weeks about putting together full 40 minute games instead of 30 or 35 minute efforts.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to, we want to jump on teams and it didn’t happen,” Trice said after the game. “We were sped up and taking bad shots, and not converting inside either. We have to focus a lot on that for the next two games to start winning again.”
Illinois helped Wisconsin stay in the game early on though, committing 12 turnovers in just over 13 minutes of game action to start the first half, and ending with a whopping 20 on the game. What should have probably been a 20 point deficit at the half was just 11 for Wisconsin.
It’s a really tough position to be in for the Badgers heading into March, who have cleaned up against the lower teams in the Big Ten but are now 0-6 against top four teams. Wisconsin has two more regular season games before the Big Ten tournament and March Madness, against Purdue and Iowa. Wisconsin will certainly hope to pull at least one win out of those two games, and will be hungry for a shot at redemption against Iowa.
“We just have to try to stay confident and positive, especially on the offensive side of the ball and convert at a higher percentage,” head coach Greg Gard said. “I wouldn’t say there’s panic, just frustration at this point.”
Up next Wisconsin will play Purdue on Tuesday, with a tip set for 8 p.m.
“It’s really obvious what we have to do,” Potter said. “We need to do better on offense. Shooting 34 percent from the floor is not going to get it done against top teams.”