With the Badgers reeling from three straight losses, including a 28-point loss to Purdue on Tuesday, they were in desperate need of a win. The Badgers got just what the doctor order when Illinois, 0-6 in the Big Ten and a team the Badgers have beat 11 straight times, came to town.
The Badgers celebrated the Kohl Center’s 20th Birthday in style with a 75-50 win over the Fighting Illini, improving to 10-10 on the season, 3-4 in the Big Ten. The victory increases the Badgers winning streak over Illinois to 12 straight games. Wisconsin, just days after an aerial assault from Purdue, held Illinois to just one three the entire game.
Wisconsin had a well-rounded, balanced offensive effort against the Fighting Illini as four players had double-digit scoring outputs. Davison led the way with 18 on 10/10 shooting from the charity stripe, Happ and Pritzl had 16 points each, Khalil Iverson added 13.
“We had a lot of guys step up and make contributions,” head coach Greg Gard. “It was good to see.”
Pritzl came into the game scoring in double-figures in four of the last five outings, averaging 11.8 PPG over that span.
On Friday night, the sophomore guard only needed the first half to continue his streak. Pritzl scored in a variety of ways, hitting two threes, converting an and-one floater from the short corner, and even a dunk for good measure. Pritzl’s 13 first half points helped Wisconsin get an early, comfortable lead on Illinois. Davison scored a quick seven points, but had to sit the last ten minutes of the half due to foul trouble.
As Illinois switched to a zone in the middle of the first half, Wisconsin cut right through it with crisp passing to the tune of nine assists and 22 points in the paint. Iverson had a beautiful no look pass to Pritzl for a wide open layup, and Alex Illikainen assisted Ford for an easy bucket from close range.
With 3:04 left in the first half, Iverson, who had increased ball handling duties with Davison riding the bench and D’Mitrik Trice still out with an injury, drove through the lane and soared for a pretty lay-in to give the Badgers their biggest lead of the game at that point of 16 points. Moments later, Iverson, again as the primary ball handler, ran a pick-and-roll with Happ and sliced through two defenders with a spin move resulting in another close basket.
In the second half, it was more of the same. Illinois head coach Brad Underwood continued to throw different defenses at Wisconsin, but the Badgers kept driving and dishing for easy buckets. And, there was more Pritzl, too.
With the shot clock winding down and no other options that to just heave it up, Pritzl shot a deep three with a hand in his face that somehow banked in leading to the video board showing Pritzl with a huge grin on his face down at the other end.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Pritzl said. “But sometimes it bounces your way.”
The next possession, Aleem Ford would knockdown a three giving the Badgers a nineteen-point advantage. The Badgers second half lead was never in jeopardy.
The Badgers finished with ten blocks, their most this season. Reuvers had five alone.
Gard said of Reuvers: “His progression to where he is now, I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid come that far in this amount of time.”
Happ had a stuffed box score with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Happ has notched double-doubles in five of the last seven games.
“We played as a unit tonight,” Happ said. “It wasn’t one guy…we made the extra pass.”
Other than Leron Black, who led Illinois with 16 points on 7/9 shooting, no one else could get it going for Brad Underwood’s squad. Illinois shot just 9/30 from the field during the second half.
Up next, the Badgers are back on the road, playing at Iowa on Tuesday night.