Defense can win you championships in football, and the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is taking that motto to the hardwood this season. On Tuesday it rode a great defensive effort to a 57-43 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini.
It was Wisconsin’s 11th-straight win over the Illini, while extending its streak to 15 of the last 16 games on this season overall.
Proving that defense mattered most was sophomore Ethan Happ, who poured in a quiet offensive double-double with 14 points to go with 13 rebounds and two steals. Happ was joined in double digits on the score sheet by forward Nigel Hayes (11), who also showed up big time defensively with eight rebounds and a steal.
After struggling from the field for about 38 minutes against Rutgers, there were no such struggles for the Badgers in their win over Illinois on Tuesday night. Wisconsin came out blistering from the field, opening up a 9-0 lead inside the first four minutes of the game.
Koenig led all Badgers with all nine of his points in the first half. But, it was a balanced scoring effort that led UW to its halftime advantage.
Eight of 10 players to see the court for Wisconsin had at least two points by the end of the half, with only Aaron Moesch and Charlie Thomas failing to get on the scoreboard.
UW started the half shooting 4 of 5 from the field and eventually took its lead to as many as 14 points in the half. However, the Badgers did cool off and were just 1-of-8 shooting to end the half.
That lone basket was a put back at the end of the half to put Wisconsin up 33-20 at intermission. Not much changed after the break, as Wisconsin’s lead was pushed in to single digits quickly and often in the second half.
Despite the Illini’s best efforts to make it a game, Wisconsin had an answer every time and eventually pushed a six-point lead with 10:55 to play all the way back up to 14 points with an 8-1 run over then next 3:35 of the game.
It was the final statement of dominance that the Badgers needed to make, as they never led by less than 12 points again in the contest.
- Wisconsin has been great defensively all year long, and that helped them on Tuesday night. As has been the case for most of the year, the Badgers found themselves holding a team to a season-low. This time it was the 20 points they held Illinois to — its lowest output in a half this season. That was matched as Illinois only mustered 43 points, which was the 11th time the Badgers put a season-low scoring night on an opponent.
- Don’t look now, but Khalil Iverson is becoming more than just a high-flyer. He isn’t exactly known as a three-point threat, but he matched his season output with two made three-pointers on Tuesday night. Not only that, but he also had two blocks and three steals to make Illinois’ life difficult when he was on the court.
- Perhaps the most impressive part of this game was Wisconsin’s ability to never panic. Illinois made a game of it a few times, but every time the game got to a single-digit lead for the Badgers someone had an answer. Whether it was Hayes with a huge slam or Showalter with the clutch triple, this team was cool and calm and it led to them never really being out of control in the win.
Wisconsin will return to the Kohl Center to take on Indiana on Sunday, Feb. 5 at Noon on CBS.