Illinois snapped a five-game losing streak to a Big Ten opponent this week. On Saturday, it will have a good chance to do the same against another league foe.
Coming off another dominant home conference win, the No. 25 Illini hope to end their skid against struggling Wisconsin.
One day after entering the poll for the first time since 2005-06, Illinois (16-3, 4-2) routed Ohio State 67-49 on Tuesday to end its five-game losing streak against the Buckeyes. The Illini’s three Big Ten home victories over Indiana, then-No. 25 Michigan and Ohio State have come by an average of 21.4 points.
A surprise early league contender after finishing 16-19 last season, Illinois is one game behind Big Ten leader Michigan State heading into this home meeting with the Badgers (12-6, 3-3), who have been one of the conference’s early disappointments.
“Right now we have to worry about (Wisconsin),” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose program last beat the Badgers 66-51 on the road Jan. 31, 2006. “It’s going to be really tough.”
While failing to beat Wisconsin has been customary of late, the Illini appear set to snap their five-game losing streak against the Badgers, who have lost three straight overall and are 1-5 versus ranked opponents.
Though Wisconsin has won two in a row at Assembly Hall, it’s lost its last two league road games heading to Illinois, which is 10-1 at home.
The Illini had little trouble putting away Ohio State, holding the Buckeyes to 41.3 percent shooting while forcing 20 turnovers. Illinois is allowing a league-low 56.6 points per game.
Offensively, Illinois is averaging a modest 69.9 points, but leads the conference with a 47.9 field-goal percentage. The Illini, however, shot 41.6 percent in losing three times to Wisconsin last season, including 61-48 in the Big Ten championship game and 71-57 at home on Feb. 20.
With most of last season’s roster back, balance has paced the Illini. Four players are averaging at least 11.1 points with sophomore’s Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale leading the way at 11.8 each.
“This year’s team is much more together,” said the 7-foot-1 Tisdale, who had 15 points against the Buckeyes. “No one cares who scores and everybody just wants to win.”
McCamey added 13 points on Tuesday and had a team-leading 18 at home against the Badgers last season.
Wisconsin, a preseason league favorite with the Spartans and Purdue, is coming off consecutive overtime losses. The Badgers blew a 14-point lead in a 78-74 home defeat to then-No. 18 Minnesota on Jan. 15, then lost 73-69 at Iowa on Wednesday.
Wisconsin, which hasn’t lost four straight league games since dropping its final 11 in 1997-98, is giving up 72.0 points during its current skid - 10.9 more than its season average.
Marcus Landry scored 13 points Wednesday for the Badgers, who went 5-for-21 from 3-point range and 3-for-9 from the field in overtime.
“I really think if one of the teams could have hit some shots early, it would have been a different game,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “Hopefully that team would have been us. I think that would have helped our cause a lot, especially when you’re on the road.”
These teams meet again Feb. 5 in Madison.