CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)—Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor hadn’t beaten Illinois since they were freshmen.
The two Wisconsin seniors helped the No. 2 Badgers survive a road scare and stay on top of the Big Ten.
Taylor scored 20 points and Tucker added 17 in a 71-64 victory Saturday, extending the Badgers’ winning streak to 15.
“It’s amazing over the years how the very experienced team does get the upper edge,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
The Badgers, who led 35-31 at halftime, relied on experience and bench depth to hold off the Illini through a series of second-half runs. Wisconsin (19-1, 5-0 Big Ten) was also 18-for-21 from the free-throw line.
“We didn’t try to get every point back in one possession,” Tucker said. “We took it one play at a time.”
Shaun Pruitt had a career-best 19 points and 14 rebounds and Rich McBride added 15 points for the Illini (14-7, 2-4), who led 62-61 with 2:06 remaining.
Badgers center Greg Stiemsma hit a pair of free throws that gave Wisconsin a 63-62 lead and the Badgers didn’t trail again.
Stiemsma averaged 1.6 points a game before Saturday, but scored a dozen points off the bench against Illinois. They included two long jump shots in the second half. After the second, Stiemsma blew on his fingers as he ran past the scorer’s table.
“I thought Stiemsma coming off the bench and hitting those shots was a backbreaker for us,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.
Weber also pointed to the Illini’s inability to match the Badgers at the free-throw line as a reason for the loss.
“They have a lot different people that can hurt you on a different day,” Weber said. “I think they have a chance to go a long way.”
Tucker entered as the No. 2 scorer in the Big Ten behind Iowa’s Adam Haluska, with 19.8 points per game. He also had a team-high eight rebounds, but his biggest contributions, Ryan said, came off the ball.
“He drew a lot of attention,” Ryan said, explaining that late in the game two and sometimes three Illini players were drawn to Tucker. “Those last four or five possessions for us were pretty good possessions.”