'They all hurt'

'They all hurt'

CHAMPAIGN — There was a celebration before the game Sunday at State Farm Center. Junior Alex Wittinger was honored by Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman for scoring her 1,000th career point last week at Penn State.

But the expected celebration after the game didn't happen. Visiting Wisconsin took care of that.

The Badgers fell behind early in the second half, but rallied for a 70-61 victory over the Illini. Illinois remains winless in the Big Ten, dropping to 0-9 in conference play and 9-14 overall.

Nancy Fahey's first Illinois team has lost 10 in a row.

Illinois hasn't won a regular season game in the Big Ten since Jan. 15, 2017, against Nebraska. The Big Ten skid is now at 20.

The latest loss, against a team that entered with one Big Ten win this season, was difficult for the Illini to take.

"We are looking for our first win still, and we really thought we could get it tonight," Wittinger said. "It sucks that we didn't. But there is only one option, and that is to keep pushing through."

"They all hurt," Fahey said.

"This was our next game up, and we wanted to win. Wanting this is not what this is about. Everybody wants it."

Illinois led 28-27 at the break, its first halftime lead of the Big Ten season.

The crowd of 3,237, which was admitted for free, helped the Illini, Fahey said.

"It was a great crowd," she said. "I really appreciate the support we got. It made a big difference just walking out there and seeing the orange. I hope it's something we can grow on as we get better.

"We wish we could have gave them more to cheer about."

Wisconsin was led by guard Suzanne Gilreath, who came off the bench to score 27 points. That's almost triple her season average.

"A lot of them were open shots, and that's really just us breaking down on defense and not attacking," Wittinger said.

Gilreath hit 9 of 14 shots overall and 7 of 12 three-pointers.

"(Gilreath) hurt us tremendously," Fahey said. "It wasn't like we were surprised."

Wisconsin improved to 9-14 overall and 2-8 in the Big Ten. After losing their first seven league games, many by lopsided scores, the Badgers have won two of their last three.

"Now when we step on the floor, we don't have the tightness," Wisconsin coach Jonathan Tsipis said.

Tsipis is in his second year at Wisconsin after leading George Washington to consecutive Atlantic-10 titles and NCAA tournament appearances. The coach understands the challenge Fahey faces at Illinois.

"We're trying to figure out how to advance programs we've taken over," Tsipis said. "In a lot of ways, this is what we went through last year. It's like having a team full of freshmen.

"Knowing Coach Fahey and the success she's had, it's just a matter of time. They are in great hands. Those kids are going to continue to get better. We are able to lean on each other a little bit knowing that we have that same tall task to try to get into the upper echelon of the league."

Fahey, a Wisconsin alum, has reached out to Tsipis early in her Illinois career.

"When you are talking to teams that have new coaches and new programs, there are some common feelings you have when you are trying to build," Fahey said. "That's what we talked about was that process and how difficult it is."

Petra Holesinska came off the bench to register 18 points. The sophomore hit 4 of 11 three-pointers.

Wittinger, fresh off her first triple-double, had 18 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots. Brandi Beasley was the third and final Illini to reach double figures with 15 points.

The Illini return to the court Thursday at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers won at Iowa on Sunday to improve to 7-2 in the Big Ten and 16-6 overall.

Illinois lost 80-72 to Nebraska on Jan. 10 at State Farm Center.

"Petra stepped up for them and made some huge shots," Tsipis said.