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January 21, 2012Though Illinois is normally one of the toughest teams in the Big Ten on a year-by-year basis, Wisconsin has found some sort of remedy to combat the rigors of playing the Illini.
The Badgers, also one of the Big Ten's top programs, have beaten Illinois 8 of the last 12 times they've met on the hardwood. And head coach Bo Ryan carries a 12-11 all-time record against Illinois.
UW has even won three of the past five games in Champaign. That's not necessarily an easy feat.
"The 'Orange Crush is always bringing the energy," UW junior center Jared Berggren said. "They're kind of all around you, too. It's a pretty cool environment and it should be fun."
There's plenty on the line, too, for a game set to take place in late January. Yes there's still more than a month of conference games yet to be played, but a win for either team would help bolster their position in the Big Ten standings.
Wisconsin, currently at 4-3, is one game behind five teams (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue) for first place in the conference. UW already has a win over Purdue, so should they match the Boilermakers in the loss column it would hold the tiebreaker.
Illinois, currently at 4-2 in league play, has an opportunity to keep pace with the rest of the frontrunners. Should the Illini lose it wouldn't necessarily put a major damper on their chances to win the league, but it obviously would knock them down a step.
For Wisconsin, a team that won it's Big Ten opener, lost each of its next three and won each of it's past three, seems to be finding it's identity. It seems as though Jordan Taylor is starting to round into the same form he established as a junior a season ago.
Sunday's game, like UW's win at Purdue, would be huge moving forward for the Badgers.
"This one, in terms of statistics and where we can go in the conference would definitely be a big one," Taylor, averaging better than 15 points per game during UW's current win streak, said. "And a great win to have against a really good Illinois team. You've just got to go in there, play aggressive and play confident."
Sunday's game opens a tough stretch for the Badgers. Following the tilt with Illinois, Wisconsin heads back to the Kohl Center for a game against Indiana, a team that already has wins over Kentucky and Ohio State, who were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at the time of their respective game.
A quick trip to Penn State preludes UW's showdown with the Buckeyes inside the Kohl Center the following game.
That's why a win over Illinois Sunday afternoon would go a long way in helping UW position itself for a run at its first Big Ten title since 2007-08.
"We really do have control right now," Berggren said. "It's a log jam up top. After a slow start we've kind of climbed our way out a little bit. We can fall behind that quick again, too. We've got to take advantage of every opportunity to get better in practice and really bring it every game. Every game is huge in the Big Ten.
"If you steal some on the road you've got to take care of home court. Every game is a battle. It's another opportunity on Sunday to climb a little closer to the top."
Tip off is schedule for 1:00 p.m. central time.