Wisconsin looks to hold onto first against Illinois

first_imgDEREKMONTGOMERY/Herald PhotoThe last time the Badgers played at the Kohl Center, forward Alando Tucker spoke before the game to his teammates of wanting to make a statement.The result was a pounding of Penn State and the team’s only win in the last four games. The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team has the opportunity to make another statement, this one much louder, Tuesday night as No. 6 Illinois visits Madison.The Badgers will look to avoid falling out of first place in the conference for the first time this season.Last season, the unbeaten Illini headed into the Kohl Center with something to prove themselves, as they were still being questioned as true national title contenders by the national media. They responded by dealing UW their first Big Ten home loss under head coach Bo Ryan.”We know that people are coming into the Kohl Center thinking they can win now,” Taylor said, after Wisconsin’s loss at Michigan Saturday night. “We just have to come together as a team.”For the Badgers to return the favor and make their own statement will not be easy as Illinois brings not only the conference’s best defense to the Kohl Center, but also a pair of the best players at their position.The Illinois defense has been spectacular thus far this season, holding opponents to an average of only 56.4 points per game, not only the best in conference, but the seventh best in the country.The Illini are holding opponents to a paltry .386 shooting percentage and an even more meager .283 three point field goal percentage.As suffocating as the defense has been, the offense has not been able to keep pace, ranking among the middle of the pack in the conference in most offensive categories. However, that can be easily forgotten as Illinois boasts a one-two punch as devastating as any team in the country, with senior guard Dee Brown and senior center James Augustine.”When someone takes away something, it opens something else up,” freshman forward Kevin Gullikson said. “If they are driving and penetrating and dishing to Augustine in the post, that will hurt. Then if you take that away that will leave guys open on the outside where they have guys who can knock down shots.”Brown is one of the most decorated players in Big Ten history. He is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, has been named preseason conference player of the year twice in his career and has been named to an all-conference team every season.The speedy guard has been up to his old tricks again, averaging 15.1 points, 5.9 assists (2nd best in the Big Ten) and 1.7 steals a night.”He is an exceptional player,” UW senior Ray Nixon said. “He does so much for his team and gets his team going. Once he gets going, it is like a snowball effect for his whole team. He can drive and dish and has exceptional range, so he helps his team out a lot.””He’s right there at the top [among the best in the Big Ten]” Tucker said, before adding that one of Brown’s biggest assets has been that he makes those around him better.”We can’t stay so focused on Dee Brown that we slip and let other guys kill us.”Augustine presents his own set of challenges for Wisconsin. Unlike the Michigan big men, who enjoyed a great deal of success against UW, Augustine prefers to play facing the basket. He has almost always been overshadowed by Brown and Illinois’ other superstars, but the 6-foot-10, 235 lb. center has been a consistent force, averaging nine rebounds (third best in conference) and 13.7 points a game.”Augustine, he’s underrated. He has been doing a lot for the Illinois program, he is always solid,” Tucker said. “Augustine brings a different look. He sets ball screens and then creating off of that, he is one of the best at that. Augustine is very athletic and agile and he can step out and hit the 15 foot jumper.”The Wisconsin players insist that it is their own game that they most need to worry about, specifically increasing their chemistry to offset the personnel losses.”These players that are left, their responsibility [has] increased,” Tucker said. “I think they are starting to kind of understand what they have to do. We have a six-, seven-man rotation and everybody’s just going to have to pick up each other.””We have to play with what we have,” Nixon said. “With the guys out, everybody has to step up. Now that we have fewer guys playing, we need better efficiency from everyone.””We can slow them down, anybody can slow them down,” Tucker said.Fortunately for Wisconsin, that short rotation won’t get any shorter as they received positive news on the injuries sustained versus Michigan. Taylor, sophomore guard Michael Flowers (right knee) and freshman forward Joe Krabbenhoft (left leg) all practiced Monday afternoon and are expected to play.As has been the trend in the recent series, where Illinois has won three of the last four, the Badgers expect another tightly contested matchup.”It’s going to be a close game,” Tucker said. “We have to learn how to close [games] out and we can’t have costly turnovers. It’s time to come together and do what we have to do.”last_img

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