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Illinois-Wisconsin Preview

AP - Sports

It's been more than a year since Illinois won a Big Ten game on the road.

A visit to Wisconsin likely won't make ending that drought any easier.

The No. 12 Fighting Illini look to avoid a ninth consecutive conference road loss and snap a three-game skid against the surging Badgers on Saturday.

Illinois (14-3, 1-2) was one of the county's biggest surprises while starting 12-0 under first-year coach John Groce. However, it's dropped three of five, including 68-61 at Purdue in its league opener Jan. 2. Though the Illini bounced back with a 74-55 home win over then-No. 8 Ohio State last Saturday, eighth-ranked Minnesota shot 52.9 percent to hand them an 84-67 home loss Wednesday.

Illinois is now saddled with trying to avoid losing nine straight Big Ten road games for the first time since 1974-76. The Illini's last conference road win came at Northwestern, 57-56 on Jan. 4, 2012 - their third in 19 away league contests since the start of the 2010-11 season.

"This league is a monster, it's a grind," Groce said.

The Illini face a daunting task against Wisconsin (11-4, 2-0), which has won four of the last five meetings at the Kohl Center and the last two there by a combined 24 points. A sixth straight victory overall Saturday would match Wisconsin's longest winning stretch from last season.

Illinois has averaged 59.0 points and shot 38.8 percent over its last five trips to Madison, including 29.3 percent from 3-point range. The Illini rank second in the nation in 3-point makes (153) and attempts (435) but are fifth in the league shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc.

They shot a season-low 12.5 percent (3 of 24) from 3 against the Gophers.

"We played our butts off," Groce said. "(But) our execution was awful - awful. And when you play a team as good as them, that's what's gonna happen. We need to execute better.

"We'll see where our execution errors hurt us and learn from that."

One positive for Groce's squad is that it's shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range while going 2-1 on the road compared to 33.6 percent at Assembly Hall, where the Illini are 8-1.

Leading scorer Brandon Paul (18.6 points per game) is shooting a career-high 36.5 percent from 3 but is 3 for 12 in the last two games. He made one of four 3-point attempts and went 8 of 17 from the field to finish with 22 points in last season's 70-56 loss at Wisconsin.

Even with 13 offensive rebounds, the Illini were pushed around by the more physical Gophers and could be in for another tough task Saturday. Wisconsin allows a league-low 54.9 points per game and is tied for first yielding an average of 8.1 offensive boards.

Despite shooting 38.2 percent in their first two Big Ten games, the Badgers held Penn State and Nebraska to a combined 92 points and 5-of-20 shooting from beyond the arc. The Cornhuskers shot 2 of 12 from 3 in Sunday's 47-41 home loss to Wisconsin.

"They contest 3s, and they do a good job of not fouling at the rim," Nebraska guard Dylan Talley said. "And they rebound the ball, so you don't get a lot of second-chance points. They have a tough team."

Wisconsin's Ryan Evans, the Big Ten leader with 8.0 rebounds per game, has averaged 13.8 points and 10.0 boards in the last five contests.

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