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No. 23 Illinois falls hard at No. 4 Wisconsin

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 11:52 p.m. CDT
Caption
Wisconsin's Josh Gasser shoots against Illinois' Jon Ekey during the first half Wednesday, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

MADISON, Wis. – One miss led to another for No. 23 Illinois. At the other end, No. 4 Wisconsin kept making shots.

By the end of the stretch of misery that lasted more than six minutes, the Illini had missed 13 straight shots during a 20-0 run by their border rivals and trailed by 23 midway through the first half.

Rayvonte Rice had 19 points on 7-of-21 shooting, but the early hole proved too much to overcome in a 95-70 loss Wednesday night.

"All in all, for me it's not about the statistics," coach John Groce said. "I didn't like how they responded to the 20-0 run there."

Wisconsin shot 53 percent from the field in the first half to open up a 25-point lead by halftime. The Illini (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) stumbled badly in their debut this year as a Top 25 team and lost a sixth straight to the Badgers.

The Illini missed 13 straight shots, some on easy looks, while Wisconsin methodically wore them down inside and on the perimeter during the big first-half run.

Joseph Bertrand added 18 points and nine rebounds for Illinois, while Tracy Abrams had eight points. Nnanna Egwu grabbed 10 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end.

"We couldn't get any stops. They were making shots," Bertrand said. "They were executing everything and we've got to work on limiting that in the future."

Ben Brust scored 18 points, Sam Dekker added 17 for Wisconsin (16-0, 3-0), off to the best start in school history.

Not that coach Bo Ryan is giving it much thought.

"I'd have gone home, maybe had a beverage, eaten something and gone to bed and it would never be brought up until you just brought it up," Ryan told a reporter after the game.

He's proud of his players' accomplishments, "but you know, you start thinking about that too much, it can go the other way in a hurry."

The balanced Badgers had five players with at least 11 points, with Frank Kaminsky adding 15 and freshman Nigel Hayes 11 off the bench. Traevon Jackson had 15 points and went 7 of 7 from the foul line.

The end of Wisconsin's first-half run typified Illinois' frustrating evening. Kaminsky, Wisconsin's 7-foot outside shooter, hit a 3 to make it 29-10 with about 10 minutes left before proving his worth at the other end.

The only defender back initially against two Illini, Kaminsky got in Abrams' way to force a missed jumper. Illinois grabbed the rebound, but Egwu missed a short layup.

Two more offensive rebounds, two more misses before the ball went out of bounds to Wisconsin.

By contrast, the Badgers played with typical efficiency at the other end, a hallmark for coach Bo Ryan's teams.

The ball wound around the perimeter before going into Dekker. The lithe 6-foot-7 forward backed down his defender with about 5 seconds left on the shot clock before turning and hitting an easy layup.

Bertrand's short jumper finally ended the run, but Illinois was well out of it already by then, down 33-12 with 7:56 left in the first half. The Badgers gave them a few easy looks on the defensive end but Illinois failed to convert.

Illinois outrebounded Wisconsin 48-35, including 25-5 on the offensive end, but still lost badly.

"It's kind of a positive thing knowing that gave up 25 offensive boards but we still won the way we did," Hayes said. "It just goes to show that if we clean that up ... we can probably win by even more and play a better game."

Illinois played a little better to open the second half and still could get no closer than 17.

Just another solid win for Wisconsin. The Badgers aren't necessarily flashy, but they've got much more firepower offensively than in years past.

Dekker can beat opponents off the dribble, as he did on a pretty diagonal drive through the lane that ended with a hesitation move and three-point play during the start of the 20-0 run.

Kaminsky can hit the 3 or smoothly maneuver in the post. The pesky Brust can make opponents pay from the perimeter, finishing 4 of 8 from 3-point territory.

"A monster," Groce said about the difficulty of defending Wisconsin. "They're the best offensive team we've had to defend to this juncture."

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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