John Groce has never been part of a losing streak like the one he’s dealing with currently during his six seasons as a head coach. He’s frustrated, the players are frustrated with the win-loss record, but they’re not discouraged.
“The most important thing to me is we continue to develop a winning culture, and we have that," Groce said.
Wisconsin at Illinois,
8 p.m. today
Illinois (13-9, 2-7 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 12.0
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 16.5
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.0
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.0
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.0
FYI: Bertrand, who scored 18 at Wisconsin last month, has hit double figures each of his last five games against the Badgers, averaging 14.4 points.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.5
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 4.1
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.5
Wisconsin (17-5, 4-5 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Traevon Jackson Jr. 6-2 10.8
G Ben Brust Sr. 6-1 13.2
G Josh Gasser Jr. 6-3 8.7
F Sam Dekker So. 6-7 13.5
F Frank Kaminski Jr. 7-0 12.9
FYI: Since scoring 95 in the win against Illinois in January, the Badgers are averaging 66 points per game and haven’t eclipsed 72 in that stretch.
OFF THE BENCH
F Nigel Hayes Fr. 6-7 7.2
G Bronson Koenig Fr. 6-3 3.7
F Duje Dukan Jr. 6-9 4.1
Site: State Farm Center (16,618), Champaign
TV: BTN — Dave Revsine (play-by-play) and Shon Morris (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 110-80. Last meeting: No. 4 Wisconsin 95, No. 23 Illinois 70, Jan. 8 (Madison).
FYI: Illinois’ Rice (5.8 rebounds per game) and Wisconsin’s Dekker (6.3) are two of three Big Ten players who leads his team in scoring and rebounding. Northwestern’s Drew Crawford is the other.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1 During this prolonged losing streak Illinois finds itself mired in, it has struggled to mount much of an offensive attack. That changed in Saturday’s loss to Iowa, when the Illini scored 74 points and shot 45 percent from the floor — both highs during the seven-game skid. The outburst was something coach John Groce saw coming ahead of the Iowa game, and it’s something he hopes can carry over into tonight’s game against the Badgers. “I thought we moved the ball better. I thought our shot selection was good,” Groce said. “What we called, we executed it. I thought our freshmen took more pride in the details, the little things, screening, cutting, that was good.” The Badgers are in a slump of their own, having scored an average of 57 points in their two straight losses.
2 When these two teams met last month, both were ranked in the Top 25 and 2-0 in Big Ten play. Including that game, Illinois has lost all seven. Wisconsin, unbeaten and ranked No. 4 in the country the last time out, is unranked after losing five of six since beating the Illini. As much as he didn’t want to relive it, Groce watched film from the first meeting. “I didn’t think we did anything real well. I thought we were very selfish defensively,” he said. “We were locked on our men and didn’t help and support one another, played it like it was five 1-on-1 games out there defensively. I thought we didn’t have the same fight.” Wisconsin led by as many as 30 in that game. Groce wants to see the fight in his team he saw when it battled back from down 21 Saturday against Iowa.
3 To win games, or have chances to win games in the Big Ten, you’ve got to execute at both ends of the floor consistently. You’ve also got to make more than a few hustle plays, and though it didn’t come during a win, Groce felt for 30 minutes in Saturday’s game that his team played as hard as any he’s coached in a loss. On one play alone, the coach said the Illini racked up six or seven Matto (hustle) points. Though Wisconsin is struggling, too, it’s going to take some Matto points and more to end the losing streak. “We went from a blocked shot, Joe diving in the stands to Malcolm Hill diving like Pete Rose, Tate running 50 feet to sink and fill to deflect a ball that would have been a dunk,” Groce said. “We had play after play after play like that. They played the game the right way on Saturday, they did. It inspired me, it was an unbelievable effort by those guys.”
Wisconsin 69, Illinois 65
Groce has never been part of a losing streak like the one he’s dealing with currently during his six seasons as a head coach. He’s frustrated, the players are frustrated with the win-loss record, but they’re not discouraged. Some fans are, others might see the big picture the way those inside the program do. This Illini program is down, but according to its coach they’re still headed up — and they’re not as far away as it might look to some. “We’re positioned right where we were right from the beginning knowing we’re going to do something special here. It’s going to happen, and it’s not a matter of if, it’s when; we’ve just got to stay the course,” Groce said. “The most important thing to me is we continue to develop a winning culture, and we have that. An expectation of how guys are supposed to act on and off the court. An expectation of how we practice, an expectation of how we handle success, an expectation of how we handle adversity. We’ve been true to that from Day 1 on March 29, 2012, to now. That’s not going to change. When you do that, you build habits that create a winning or championship environment. Obviously, we’re not there yet, and sometimes you have to go through adversity and be dealt cards, and you have to know how to be able to handle that. I think our guys have handled that very, very well, and at the end of the day, it’s going to make us a lot stronger.” (N-G prediction record: 18-4).