March 12, 2010

UW's comeback bid falls short in quarterfinals

INDIANAPOLIS - If Wisconsin would have shot any worse in the first half of Friday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against Illinois, there probably would have been lids covering the rims.

When the shots finally started to drop for the Badgers in the waning minutes of the second half, it was too little too late as the Illini held off a late UW run to advance to Saturday's semi-final with a 58-54 win.

"Obviously this was a big game for us," Illinois head coach Bruce Weber, who's team desperately needed a win to sure up a bubble resume before Sunday's selection show, said. "All of the things that we didn't do well on Sunday against them, I thought our guys did a great job in preparation of listening. We executed what we had talked about."

In a complete twist of fate, after the same Badger squad firmly handled the Illini in the regular season finale less than a week ago in Champaign, Illinois was the team that looked more poised and sure of itself in Friday win.

In the first half the Illini defense limited UW to only 18 percent shooting from the floor while the Illini offense hit 65 percent of its shots. Illinois also out rebounded the Badgers by a seven-board margin in the opening frame en route to opening a nine-point edge at the break.

Both Badger senior guards Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon failed to make a shot in the opening 20 minutes, combining for a brutal 0-for-13 shooting display.

In fact, it took 18 shot attempts before Bohannon finally hit a shot from the field with just under five minutes to play that cut the Illini lead down to 10.

"We were getting some decent looks," UW junior forward Jon Leuer, who finished with tied with a team high 14 points, said. "They just weren't falling. We had to work a little bit harder to finish inside. We obviously missed some bunnies. But for the most part, we were getting good shots.

"We just weren't finishing."

Illinois was.

In fact, it was almost a carbon copy of UW's earlier loss to the Illini back in Madison earlier this season. Demetri McCamey finished with 13 point and eight assists. His fellow cohort Mike Tisdale buried the Badgers again with his silky jumper from the perimeter.

"I've been joking around with coach," Tisdale, who hit 8-of-10 shots from the floor, said. "I've been shooting a little more in practice. They were open and I wasn't forcing anything. If I'm open I'm going to shoot it and I did."

But like the veteran team Wisconsin is, and regardless how bad the Badgers were shooting for the most part, the team finally got it going in the waning minutes.

With less than two minutes to play and trailing by a seemingly insurmountable 12 points, Wisconsin got hot. Hughes finally broke his snide with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut the lead to nine.

After Tisdale hit just one of two free throws, Keaton Nankivil, who chipped in five points drilled a long-range bomb to cut the Illini lead to six with 78 seconds to play.

After an Illinois three-point play following a missed Leuer free throw, Hughes was back at it. In fact, after scoring just two points throughout the first 38 minutes of the contest, the Badger senior drilled four bombs from the perimeter to keep his team in it.

With Illinois struggling to capitalize on free throw opportunities to the fullest, UW eventually set Bohannon up for a great look from three that would have tied the game.

Instead, the senior's shot came up just short and Illinois held on to claim the win.

"He got an arm up," Bohannon, who only made 1-of-10 shots from the field, said of his last shot. "I felt like it was clean. It came off pretty good, it was just short. That was kind of the case with a lot of the shots."

The loss, in all reality, really doesn't hurt the Badgers as much as one would have hurt the Illini. Wisconsin is firmly in the field of 65 set to be announced Sunday afternoon following the Big Ten championship game.

For Illinois, Friday's win might have been the signature its resume needed regardless of what happens in Saturday's semi-final against Ohio State.

"We knew it couldn't hurt," Tisdale said when asked if his team needed to win Friday's game. "The thought is that we're in the Big Ten Tournament right now. We're not any further than that. We're playing Ohio State tomorrow. There is no thought process after that.

"We're going to go back to the hotel, get some good food and we're going to be ready for Ohio State."

Wisconsin is headed back to Madison where it will learn of its next opponent and location during Sunday's selection show.

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