ICYMI: Illinois vs. Wisconsin
Feb. 6, 2014
By Lexi Shurilla, fightingillini.com staff writer
No. 24 Wisconsin 75, Illinois 63
Although weather inhibited a full house at State Farm Center, the fans that were able to make it saw another glimpse of a team with some fight in a 75-63 loss to No. 24 Wisconsin. The Illini concluded a five-game stretch against four ranked opponents. In all, Illinois plays a total of nine games against currently ranked Big Ten teams, tied with Minnesota for most in the conference.
With a winter storm dumping nearly eight inches of snow throughout central Illinois Tuesday night, and high winds making road conditions treacherous, only 4,185 of the 13,331 tickets sold were able to make it. Illinois head coach John Groce and the Illini were appreciative of those that braved the conditions to come support the team.
"I appreciate the 4,000+ that came out and braved the snow," Groce said of the fan support. "The Orange Krush was great. They showed up even more than I thought they would, so we're appreciative of that. I totally understand that safety is obviously everyone's first concern."
As for the game, the Illini trailed most of the way and got within two a couple of times midway through the second half, but couldn't get the stops they needed down the stretch.
"Our defense was not good enough," Groce said. "Having said that, I want to give [Wisconsin] credit. The difference in the game was the three-point shot. They went 10-for-23 from three. We've got to defend better than that to be the best basketball team that this particular team can be.
"I think two weeks ago, offensively, we weren't playing quite as well," Groce continued. "I thought we played great offensively Saturday night (against Iowa). I thought today we were pretty good again offensively."
The Illini trailed by just three, 55-52, with 5:40 remaining, but the Badgers scored 20 points in the final 5:15 to pull away. "I don't think we had as much as we should have to win the game, but we definitely had glimpses of it," senior Joseph Bertrand said of the team's defense. "Once we get the whole game like that, I think we'll make a lot of strides."
Tuesday's match-up featured two of the three Big Ten players who lead their teams in both scoring and rebounding in Rayvonte Rice and Wisconsin's Sam Dekker. Rice also leads the Illini in steals, the only player in the conference to rank first on his team in all three categories.
Rice was doing all he could do on both ends of the floor against the Badgers as he finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. Groce thought Rice played well, as he was aggressive on defense and on the glass. But in order for Illinois to climb back into the win column, Rice, Bertrand and the rest of the veterans need to be firing on all cylinders.
Bertrand had 18 points last month at Madison and finished Tuesday's game with 11 points. Bertrand has scored in double figures in each of his last six games against Wisconsin.
"I think we just need to put our defense and offense together," Bertrand said. "Last game our defense was really good, this game our offense was pretty good, once we get both of them going at the same time we'll be better."
"We're trying everything," Groce said. "I'm open to anything and everything. We talk about being solution based. We are going to continue to stay positive and fight. I do think we played hard."