Notes: Defense an issue in loss to Badgers

Notes: Defense an issue in loss to Badgers

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin has been hurting for ball handlers since point guard D’Mitrik Trice had foot surgery in December.

Freshman Brad Davison has taken on most of that lead guard role. But 6-foot-10 redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ initiates the Badgers’ offense — and brings the ball up the court — more often than most of his big man contemporaries.

While Wisconsin was able to attack the basket more off the dribble against Illinois on Friday night at the Kohl Center than it had most teams, Illini coach Brad Underwood was more surprised by who was doing it more frequently than he preferred.

“I was more surprised by their power forward beating our guards off the dribble and then having no rotation,” Underwood said. “To their credit, I’m sure they talked about that and said line up and drive us.

“When we don’t have Greg (Eboigbodin) in the game, we don’t have much rim protection, and our rotations were off. We weren’t in the gaps and were hugging our man. They all had their way with us off the dribble.”
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The Badgers’ offensive exploits weren’t limited to layups — even if they made 11 of 19. Wisconsin was also 7 of 19 from three-point range and hit multiple threes at the end of the shot clock. They were desperation shots that quickly became daggers.

“It seems like every time we kind of felt good about something, they’d bank a three in at the end of the shot clock,” Underwood said. “It was one of those nights.”

Brevin Pritzl had one of the banked-in three-pointers. The redshirt sophomore guard finished two off his season high with 16 points, going 3 of 6 from deep. Davison, who led the Badgers with 18 points, also hit one of those late three-pointers.

“We’ve got to be more mature about the situation,” Illinois graduate guard Mark Alstork said. “We can’t hang our heads. We can’t shake our heads on the court. That just brings negative energy and negative vibes.

“If it happens, it happens. Go run offense and try to get a good shot on offense. Then defensively you’ve got to try it again. Make them shoot a a contested shot at the end of the clock again. If that happens every time and they make it, then we’ve got to live with it.”
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Illinois altered its defensive strategy from the first half to the second. The Illini regularly ran a double team at Happ in the first half, and his passing was able to get his teammates involved.  The Illini did that less in the second half, but couldn’t keep the Illinois native from finishing with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

“You pick your poison,” Underwood said. “We worked on it for a couple days. Their guys back cut us and got layups. That’s all we talked about in the scout.”
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The Illini’s defense — their stronger suit this season — just struggled in general. Wisconsin shot 53 percent from the field overall and got to the free throw line 21 times (to Illinois’ seven) and shot 76 percent on its freebies.

“They were getting the ball wherever they wanted to get it,” Illinois redshirt junior forward Leron Black said. “We weren’t denying the wings like we needed to. They were driving us.”
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Underwood turned to his walk-ons in the second half against Wisconsin, although redshirt sophomore guard Drew Cayce did get some first half tick. Cayce played a career high 9 minutes and finished with two steals and a rebound.

“I don’t think it was trying to send a message,” Underwood said. “I think it was trying to find five guys that are going to do and play the way we want to play. … Drew does it every single day. Drew was incredible tonight. Just the little things. A guy picks up his dribble, we call, ‘Dead.’ He does that, and we force a steal.”

Cameron Liss got 7 minutes off the bench for the Illini.

“We had Cam imitate Happ all whole week in practice,” Underwood said. “We probably should have had a pretty good idea when he was a problem for us in practice that guarding the real deal would be a problem.”