CHAMPAIGN — With just over 10 minutes left in the game, Illinois started to pull off the improbable, but No. 10 Wisconsin made sure the impossible didn’t happen in its 57-43 win Tuesday night.
The Badgers’ lead fell to six points after reaching as much as 16, but the experienced players led the way and told their teammates to weather the storm, because it was going to end.
“We knew the water would eventually find its level and it did,” Ethan Happ said.
Happ scored 14 points for Wisconsin (19-3, 8-1 Big Ten), which started the game with a 16-2 run and never trailed.
Much of the hot start came from the open 3-pointers Illinois allowed Wisconsin’s players to take — the Badgers shot 7 of 23 from 3-point range in the game.
The Badgers shot 12 percent from 3-point range against Rutgers on Saturday.
“The difference were (the shots) were going in,” Happ said. “We just want our guys to keep on shooting and have confidence.”
While Wisconsin didn’t play offensively for much of the game, the team’s defense limited Illinois from getting into any type of rhythm and the Illini only went to the free throw line nine times.
The Badgers’ big men dominated the game in the post, out-rebounding Illinois 45-36, including 19-6 on the offensive boards.
Nigel Hayes scored 11 points and added eight rebounds for Wisconsin, part of a group effort rather than a game dominated by either Hayes or Happ.
“I thought everyone contributed positively,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “To be able to come here on the road and perform the way we did, it’s thanks to the guys in the locker room.”
Malcolm Hill and Maverick Morgan both had 10 points for Illinois (13-10, 3-7).
The Illini looked overmatched as they have for much of the season against good opponents, but they came back and closed Wisconsin’s lead down to as much as six points before falling short.
Illinois shot 28 percent from the field and 5 of 21 from beyond the arc.
“You get down 16-2, it’s tough for anybody to come back,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “You have to make shots.”
Wisconsin: The Badgers will have a relatively easy next couple of games before playing Northwestern and Maryland, their last test before the Big Ten Tournament.
Illinois: The Illini weren’t expected to win Tuesday’s game even if it was at home. The team is in a tailspin and no game on the schedule looks like a lock.
A win over Illinois isn’t going to help in the rankings. Both Kentucky and Virginia should remain above the Badgers in the next rankings.
Khalil Iverson pf Wisconsin put together a good performance off the bench, scoring six points in 15 minutes.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Illinois finished the game with seven assists, tying the second-fewest this season.