Connect with us


Illinois Basketball: 3 Observations from Wisconsin



Despite an ice cold first half in chilly Madison, the Illini continued their hot streak in the conference with a 61-51 win. Illinois will own the season sweep over the Badgers after a mature second half performance.

1. Mayer Madness

When Terrence Shannon Jr. picked up his second foul in 40 seconds with over 15 minutes left in the first half, there was a TV timeout. Right out of that timeout, Matthew Mayer hit a stepback, and one three. It set the stage for what rivals Texas as his best game in an Illini uniform, with a career-high 26 points. Mayer and Dain Dainja combined for 16 of Illinois 20 first half points, keeping the Illini above water in a first half that saw just 15 made baskets between both sides. While Dainja cooled off in the second half, Mayer continued to heat up. Mayer did it in a variety of ways, showing off the silky smooth offensive game that makes him so tough to guard at his height. He made 5 threes, and put downhill pressure on the Wisconsin defense even with his jumper falling. He provided his usual defensive chaos creation, with a block and a steal. When Mayer is playing like this, the Illini will be a very tough matchup for anyone.

2. Maturity in Madison

Although the first half saw both teams struggle to put together anything besides bricks, the second half was a game of runs. First the Illini had a 12-4 run that opened up the lead to double digits. Then the Badgers swung back, making four straight threes and taking the lead with a 15-2 run of their own. While many I’m sure had flashbacks to past games, Illinois made sure today’s ending was different. Silencing the raucous Kohl Center crowd, the Illini put the game to bed with a 22-4 haymaker. In the preview I wondered how the Illini would respond to adversity on the road, where they have struggled. When Wisconsin made their run, they didn’t panic, got good looks (just four turnovers in the second half), and cruised to a win.

3. Paint Protection Prevails

Last time these two teams met, the Badgers outscored the Illini by 12 in the paint. On Saturday afternoon however, it was Illinois’ turn to live in the lane. Mayer provided the downtown bombs while Jayden Epps, Shannon and Dainja provided the bruising buckets needed to beat the Badgers. The Illini finished +6 in the paint and did a good job making the Badgers take jump shots and tough post ups. With their front court length and overall athleticism, this team has to continue to own the paint.

The Illini won their third game in a row in Madison after eight straight losses there. They moved into a two game tie for fourth in the conference, and have now won 6 of their last seven. On Tuesday, they will return to the State Farm Center to face Nebraska.

Brian is a former sports writer for the Daily Illini who has been covering Illinois Basketball for over 5 years. Brian is now the lead basketball reporter for Armchair Illini, the go-to source for Illinois athletics news. He has had work published on Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, USA Today and more.