MADISON, Wis. — The only player on his roster that Illinois coach John Groce felt comfortable about complimenting without watching the film of Saturday’s 74-51 loss to Wisconsin was Mike Shaw.
The sophomore reserve forward from Chicago had two points, three rebounds and had one of Illinois’ two assists in a game the Illini trailed 14-0 early.
“The one guy I know that played his butt off in the 19 minutes that he was in was Mike Shaw. Mike Shaw played like his head was held under water and that’s what I’m looking for,” Groce said. “The other guys, I think, did at times. I’ll certainly watch the film and as I told them after the game, if there’s other guys that joined Mike after I watched the film, in front of the team tomorrow I will acknowledge them and say there were other guys in addition to Mike. I will be sure to do that tomorrow. I don’t know if that’s the case, so we’ll take a look at it, figure it out on the way back.”
It was a rare appearance for Shaw, who has found himself buried on the Illinois bench behind Tyler Griffey, Sam McLaurin, Nnanna Egwu and Myke Henry.
Shaw played a minute late in Wednesday’s loss to Minnesota and had not played at all in the six games leading up to Wednesday.
His season high for minutes played was six in the second game of the season against St. Francis.
“I just have to stay positive, that’s all I can do. Being negative won’t help. I just have to stay ready,” Shaw said. “When you’re called, just do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Despite the lack of playing time, the Illinois coaches have been encouraged with Shaw. He’s hoping Saturday’s performance was enough to earn more playing time.
“Just stay positive, keep working, which I’ve been doing. Just come work hard every day, that’s all I can do,” Shaw said. “I just want to do what I can do to help the team, if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’m going to do it.”
For the first time all season, Brandon Paul failed to reach double figures in scoring after he was held to eight.
The 17-game run was the best of Paul’s career. He was 1 for 11 from the floor against the Badgers.
“He’s a great player, to get him to shoot like that I think we should take some credit as a team,” said Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz, who guarded Paul the majority of the game. “It just wasn’t his day, but he’s a heck of a guard. The things you’ve got to take away from him is open threes and you can’t let him get going early.”
Paul was 1 for 4 from behind the three-point line and went 5 for 10 on free throws.
“They did a combination of being physically tough against him, making it hard,” Groce said. “Not to take anything away from them, he missed some that he makes sometimes. Brandon will be the first to tell you he doesn’t go 5 for 10 from the line. He missed a couple at the rim there where he didn’t finish that he normally does.”
Wisconsin entered the game 2-0 in the Big Ten despite some dreadful shooting numbers in the two games against Nebraska and Penn State. The Badgers were shooting 38 percent from the floor (42 for 110), 21 percent from three-point range (7 for 34) and 41 percent from the free throw line (16 for 39).
Against the Illini, Wisconsin shot 49 percent (28 for 57), 43.5 percent from deep (10 for 23) and 61.5 percent from the foul line (8 for 13).
“They made shots. Good teams do that. Sometimes that happens. I was disappointed that we lost (Ben) Brust a couple times in the first half,” Groce said. “What happens with guys who can shoot is if they make one where you leave them or you bust an execution deal, then they’re feeling pretty good. Then it’s like throwing rocks in an ocean. I thought that happened a little bit.
“We left Brust, our game plan was to take away some threes early and he made us pay. (Sam) Dekker made some threes, other guys stepped up and made shots.”
Having played Minnesota on Wednesday in a physical game, Groce was concerned about facing a fresh Wisconsin team that had six days to prepare. The Illinois coach shortened practice the last two days in preparation for Saturday’s game.
It might have been a bad idea.
“I was cautious of that over the last couple of days. We didn’t go very long. We hit, but we didn’t go very long because I wanted to be fresh,” Groce said. “Maybe this team can’t handle that, maybe I learned something today. We’ll evaluate everything at this point; how we prepared them, competitiveness, our passion and energy level, some of the things that got us to the point where we played some pretty good basketball. We didn’t have a lot of those things today.”
Griffey left the court for a while in the first half after taking a shot above the left eyebrow from a Wisconsin player.
The senior received stitches and returned to finish the game.
“It was inadvertent, no one’s trying to hurt anybody. They collided, he got stitches,” Groce said.
Tracy Abrams left the game briefly in the second half after running into a hard screen from Bruesewitz.
“He’s OK,” Groce said.
With the graduation of All-Big Ten guard Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin figured to be in good shape with junior Josh Gasser running the show at point. Gasser torn his ACL in the preseason and will miss the entire season. It was a tough blow for a team ranked in the preseason Top 25.
“He’s the best player on the team, mostly because of his leadership and the intangibles that he brings,” said former Badgers guard Mike Kelley, who called Saturday’s game for BTN. “(Jared) Berggren is talented, they’ve got a lot of talented guys, but Josh is at the top. He was the best defender they had, especially on the perimeter. They lost a lot, especially considering Jordan Taylor is gone from this team.”
Without the 6-foot-3 Gasser, who averaged 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds last season, Wisconsin has struggled to score points at a consistent rate.
“They needed Josh to help out in late situations with the shot clock, and without him it’s been a work in progress,” Kelley said. “The guys have gotten better, but it’s definitely been a struggle.”
In Gasser’s absence, Traevon Jackson and George Marshall have assumed the point guard duties for the Badgers. There have been some ups and downs, but they’re getting better as the season progresses.
“Trae Jackson had probably his best game of the year against Nebraska. He had two buckets late — not just late in the game, but late in the shot clock,” Kelley said. “He created his own shot, which he hasn’t done a ton of. From a confidence standpoint, that was big.”
With scorers like Berggren and Ryan Evans on the floor, Bo Ryan hasn’t asked for much in the way of putting points on the board from his young guards.
“They do need to take care of the basketball and get the ball to other guys to score, that’s been the big thing for them, doing that and leading the team,” Kelley said. “Defensively, not having letdowns is big with them, too.”
Kelley played on Wisconsin’s Final Four team in 2000 and holds the program’s career record for steals (second on the list is former UI assistant Tracy Webster). Kelley isn’t an offensive-minded guy, so he’s OK with the reputation Wisconsin has had under Ryan for grinding games out.
“I’m partial to it. I enjoy it,” Kelley said. “It’s a team that takes care of the basketball, takes good shots, fundamentally sound and they win a ton,” Kelley said. “I don’t think Wisconsin fans find it boring when they’re winning all the time. You can play any style you want, but as long as you’re winning, fans are going to be happy. People rally around it from Dick Bennett to Bo Ryan. People rally around this program.”
Last week, Paul was one of 25 players named to the midseason Wooden Award watch list as the nation’s best player.
As a defensive-minded guy, Kelley is glad he doesn’t have to worry about how to guard the 6-4 Illini guard.
“He’s scary because he’s willing to take some shots a lot of other guys wouldn’t take,” Kelley said before the game. “You worry if those go down, how that changes the way you play the game. When you’re guarding a guy like that, you’ve got to pick him up a little quicker, be careful on the ball screens. Big guys have to help out.
“He’s a great player. I admire the way he’s fought through the adversity. It’s a big change having a coaching change this late in your career, and he’s answered that call.”