Illinois hasn’t had much success lately away from home, and its most recent trip outside of Champaign ended with one of its worst offensive performances in decades.
If the Fighting Illini can correct their road woes on Thursday, it’ll be Wisconsin experiencing something that hasn’t happened in more than 10 years.
Losers of six straight overall, the Badgers haven’t dropped three in a row at home since their first month in the 11-year-old Kohl Center, a streak that’s in danger of ending on Thursday when No. 23 Illinois invades Madison.
The Illini (18-4, 6-3 Big Ten) have won their five conference home games by an average of 15.8 points, but their road trips have been considerably less impressive. Illinois opened its Big Ten road slate with an overtime win at Purdue, but has lost its next three away from home.
Close losses at Michigan and Michigan State weren’t all that surprising, but what happened last Thursday at Minnesota was. The Illini shot 29.4 percent in a 59-36 loss to the Golden Gophers, leaving with the fewest points by any Illinois team since it scored 34 in a loss to Purdue on Jan. 30, 1985.
“You feel as low as you can feel,” coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s a humbler, that’s for sure. If it isn’t, we’re in trouble.”
The Illini seemed to carry their offensive struggles into the first half of Sunday’s game against Iowa, which they trailed 25-22 at halftime. This time, though, they got it together for the final 20 minutes. Mike Tisdale had 18 points and Illinois outscored the Hawkeyes 40-29 after the half to escape with a 62-54 victory, its ninth straight in Champaign.
“A lot of teams come on the road and can beat you,” senior guard Chester Frazier said. “It’s a tough league this year. There are really no upsets. Teams people think should win aren’t and isn’t going to be as easy. This is a tough league top to bottom this year.”
Wisconsin (12-9, 3-6) can certainly attest to the difficulty of the Big Ten. The Badgers have lost six in a row, their longest losing streak since an eight-game skid from Jan. 21-Feb. 14, 1998.
The first of those eight straight losses came just one game after Wisconsin’s Kohl Center hosted its first game, a 56-33 Badgers win over Northwestern on Jan. 17. Wisconsin dropped its next three home games after that, including an overtime loss to Illinois - but it hasn’t lost three in a row at the Kohl Center since.
During this six-game slide, though, the Badgers have been extremely close to breaking through. The two home losses - to Minnesota and Purdue - came by a combined four points, and the last three road losses have been by an average of 4.7 points.
One of those came at Illinois, when sophomore Demetri McCarney scored a season-high 25 points and added seven assists in the Illini’s 64-57 win on Jan. 24.
Wisconsin’s latest close call came Saturday at Northwestern. The Badgers shot 52.6 percent as a team, but Trevon Hughes was only 3-for-10, including 1-for-6 from the 3-point line, in a 66-63 loss.
Hughes averages 12.4 points, just behind Marcus Landry’s team-leading 12.8 ppg, and he’s had success against Illinois in the past. The junior guard had a game-high 22 points to go with six steals and five assists in Wisconsin’s 70-60 win over the Illini on Jan. 10, 2008, Illinois’ last visit to Madison.
The Illini had won in their two previous trips to the Kohl Center.