Wisconsin has rebounded nicely from a home loss to Illinois last month and appears to be heading into the Big Ten tournament with a lot of momentum.
The Illini haven’t built any since that victory.
The 15th-ranked Badgers look to win their fourth straight Sunday when they visit Assembly Hall, trying to extend Illinois’ late swoon.
Wisconsin (22-7, 12-5) had won 51 straight home games against unranked Big Ten opponents before losing 63-56 to Illinois on Feb. 9. It was the fifth straight victory for the Illini (18-2, 10-7) and moved them into a tie atop the conference with Michigan State.
The season has since gone downhill for Illinois, which has dropped four of five, including two straight at home for the first time since a four-game home losing streak Feb. 2-March 6, 2008.
“The shark got one leg, now it’s got the other,” coach Bruce Weber said following a 73-57 loss at No. 6 Ohio State on Tuesday. “It’s pulling us under. We’ll see if we can get away.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, has clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament, winning four of five since the loss to the Illini, including three straight. Its last two victories were by a combined 59 points, shooting 54.9 percent in a 67-40 win over Iowa on Wednesday.
“We’re just playing good basketball,” senior Jason Bohannon said. “We just have to take it one game at a time.”
Jon Leuer scored 18 points and was 8 of 9 from the field Wednesday in his fourth game since missing nine with a broken wrist. It was his highest-scoring game since suffering the injury.
“With every game, you get more confidence and experience,” said Leuer, second on the team with 14.6 points per game. “(The first game back) I was working the rust off and being a little tentative. Now I’m playing with guys and it just feels more natural and more fluid.”
Leuer did not play when the Illini visited Madison and Wisconsin leading scorer Trevon Hughes went 4 of 16 from the field.
The Badgers are 4-5 on the road, but all the wins came against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings.
The Illini will have to settle for a fifth-place finish after losing their last two games. They have shot 37.7 percent from the field over their last five.
Against the Buckeyes, Illinois was within four points at the half but shot 32.3 percent after the break. Demetri McCamey scored 18 but went 2 of 8 from the field for six points in the second half.
The Illini will be looking for another big game Sunday from McCamey, who finished with 27 points against the Badgers last month and is averaging 16.0 in six career games against them.
Illinois won its most recent game against the Badgers at Assembly Hall but lost the previous two there when Wisconsin was ranked. The teams could face off again in the second round of the Big Ten tournament Friday if the Badgers are the No. 4 seed.