CHAMPAIGN — After Wisconsin dismantled Illinois 95-70 last month in Madison, a member of Illinois’ Orange Krush student section, who made the trip north for that game, ran into Badgers big man Frank Kaminsky after the game.
“Frank, the game in Champaign’s going to be different,” the Krush member told Kaminsky.
“No, it won’t,” Kaminsky responded.
Both were right as Tuesday’s rematch at State Farm Center was decidedly more competitive. Unfortunately for Illinois, the result is the same one it left Madison with, one that’s become all too familiar during this losing streak that has now reached eight after Tuesday’s 75-63 loss to the Badgers in front of 4,185.
“My gut tells me I’m going to watch it and they beat us. Their guys made plays,” Illinois coach John Groce said.
The winter storm that hit the area Tuesday afternoon crippled attendance, fans being allowed to fill in the empty seats in A and B sections at the first media timeout.
“I’d love to have (16,618) in here like we did the other night, but I understand that,” Groce said. “Obviously safety is the most important thing. The 4,000 or so that were here were great.”
Wisconsin’s three-point shooting (10 of 23) crippled Illinois’ chance to bring its long losing streak to a halt.
“Our defense was not good enough. I want to give them credit. They stepped up and made them,” Groce said.
It’s the first time in 40 years Illinois has suffered an eight-game losing streak.
“We’re trying everything — and I do mean everything,” Groce said. “We threw everything at them tonight. We tried any and everything tonight trying to slow them down.”
The Illini (13-10, 2-8 Big Ten) got a game-high 24 points from Rayvonte Rice, who finished one rebound shy of his second double-double of the season. Joseph Bertrand added 11 points and Nnanna Egwu contributed 10 points and three blocks.
“Ray played well. I thought he was really aggressive,” Groce said.
Wisconsin had four players reach double figures, led by Sam Dekker and Ben Brust, who had 16 points apiece. Nigel Hayes and Traevon Jackson (seven rebounds) scored 14 each.
“We’ve got to defend better than that to be the best basketball team that this particular basketball team can be,” Groce said. “Tonight we just weren’t good enough.”