Illini challenge Badgers in Big Ten tussle

Madison, WI ( - With a chance to expand their lead in the Big Ten Conference standings even further, the fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badger play host to the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon.


Illinois is in the midst of a four-game win streak, which has elevated its record to 17-8 overall and 7-5 in conference. The Illini, who topped visiting Michigan in their most recent outing, 64-52, in overtime this past Thursday, are in the upper half of the Big Ten standings, but still well off the pace set by the red-hot Badgers.


Wisconsin enters this fray at 22-2 overall and 10-1 against league foes, giving it a healthy lead over second-place Maryland at the moment, the Terps sitting with a 9-4 league ledger. The Badgers have won their last seven games, including a 65-55 triumph at Nebraska last Tuesday, and are a near-perfect 12-1 at home this season.


Illinois owns a 110-81 lead in the all-time series with Wisconsin, but the Badgers have won the last seven meetings. This is the only scheduled bout between the two teams this season.


Kendrick Nunn nailed four 3-pointers en route to 21 points for Illinois in its recent overtime win against Michigan, but the team as a whole shot the ball rather poorly (.387) while also being outscored in bench points (21-18). Thankfully, the Illini were on their game when it came to defending the basket, as the Wolverines were successful on only 36.8 percent of their total shots, which included a dismal 4-of-17 showing from beyond the arc. Ahmad Starks scored 12 points and Malcolm Hill had 11 for Illinois, which also got a dozen rebounds from Nnanna Egwu in the hard-fought victory.

For the most part, the Illini have done a decent job at both ends of the court this season, putting up 71.7 ppg thanks to 36.8 percent shooting out on the perimeter and the fact that it is extremely accurate from the free-throw line (league-best .792). The team boasts three double-digit scorers in Rayvonte Rice (16.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Hill (14.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Nunn (11.8 ppg), and its defensive effort yields only 40.8 percent field goal efficiency to the opposition, while also laying claim to one of the top turnover margins in the Big Ten (+3.6).

Wisconsin didn't play particularly well, at least not at the offensive end, in its recent trip to Nebraska, shooting just 39.1 percent from the floor and missing 13 of its 18 3-point launches along the way. Sam Dekker paced the unit with 21 points, and he was joined in double figures by Frank Kaminsky (13 pts., 12 rebs.) and Bronson Koenig (13 pts.). Where the Badgers really excelled, as they've done all season long, is on defense as they held the Cornhuskers to 35.5 percent shooting accuracy, which encompassed a poor 4- of-18 effort from 3-point land. A massive 24-7 edge in points at the foul line certainly helped UW's cause.


The Badgers are the top defensive team in the Big Ten this season, as they permit just 56.2 ppg, while ranking second in rebounding margin (+6.2). When facing the basket, Wisconsin has done well for itself in netting 73.6 ppg despite ranking in the lower half of the league in field goal percentage (.413). The Badgers do manage to convert their free throws with the best of them, with their .760 percentage ranking just behind the Illini. Kaminsky (17.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 58 assists, 38 blocks) continues to make his case for Big Ten Player of the Year as he leads the team in several statistical categories. Dekker (13.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Nigel Hayes (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) round out the double-digit scorers for coach Bo Ryan's club.


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