MADISON, Wis. - The No. 23 Illinois Fighting Illini needed to get out to a fast start if they wanted to beat the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers on the road in the Kohl Center. And to their credit the lllini did just that- but only for about five minutes or so.
After that point the Badgers dismantled the Illini on the way to a 95-70 win, thanks in large part to a 20-0 run early in the first half. Eight different players combined to shoot 7-for-10 from the field during UW's run, including 3-of-6 on 3-pointers. All in all the Illini missed 12 shots during an almost seven-minute scoreless streak that put the biggest nail into their coffin.
The Illini (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) rebounded a bit to shoot 35.7 percent from the floor in the second half, but it was not enough to keep up with the high-flying Badgers (16-0, 3-0), who shot 56.1 percent from the floor in the game, setting a school record with 16-straight wins to start a season in the process.
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said he was proud of his team for how well they've performed so far, but with a few months left in the season he also said it's too early to stop and think about setting any records.
"What they've accomplished they've earned," Ryan said after the game. "They get the credit. They put the sweat on the floor and I'm certainly proud of them. But if you start thinking about that too much it can go the other way in a hurry."
The Badgers had Illinois out-gunned virtually from the start, with Ben Brust, Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Nigel Hayes all finishing the game with at least 11 points. Wisconsin's starting five combined to shoot 25-of-42 from the floor, and Dekker said that his team's offensive versatility is a big reason why the Badgers are undefeated so far this season.
"I just think we have a bunch of guys who know how to make plays and bring different things to the table," Dekker said. "When you have guys like that who do multiple things and bring multiple things to the table it's much harder to scout than going up against a team that has one or two shooters, one slasher and a post man. Having versatility on the offensive end makes it a tougher matchup and it's worked to our [advantage] so far."
By contrast the Illini could only rely on guards Rayvonte Rice and Joseph Bertrand to keep them in the game. Rice and Bernard combined to score 37 of Illinois' 70 points, but the rest of Illinois' starting five combined to shoot just 6-for-25 from the field for 15 points.
But even though the Badgers had just finished one of their best games of the season, post-game questions usually circled back to the team's record-breaking start, and what it means for this Wisconsin team's place in school history. Ryan didn't want to break down where he thinks his current team ranks, and his players followed suit for the most part.
Players like Nigel Hayes said they appreciate the success they've had so far, but they don't want a 16-0 start to the season to be the only thing people remember about them a few years from now.
"There was a John Wooden quote we were talking about- 'Don't get caught up in praise or criticism,'" Hayes said after the game. "That's what we're trying to do right now- don't get too high on our selves, make sure we stay focused- because we know that there are bigger goals down the road that we want to reach."
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