Badgers overcome slow start to top Illini
CHAMPAIGN, IL. Since Frank Kaminsky was poked in the eye in a game on Jan. 15, he had played a total of four minutes for Wisconsin.
The iris in his left eye was cut, and for several days after the injury he couldn’t see out of that eye.
It’s safe to say he’s back.
Kaminsky scored a career-high 19 points Sunday and, combined with Ben Brust’s 20 points, led the Badgers to a 74-68 win at Illinois that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
“We just took it out on them,” Kaminsky said.
The win keeps the Badgers (15-7, 6-3) in fifth place in the Big Ten and was particularly sweet, Kaminsky said, since he and Brust are both from the Chicago area.
“This is my home state, I have all my family here,” he said. “I wanted to come and play well in front of my family.”
The loss was the seventh in nine games for the Illini (15-8, 2-7), who are slipping toward the bottom of the conference after opening the season 12-0. They gave up 40 second-half points to the Badgers, and sent Wisconsin to the free-throw line 42 times. The Badgers made 28.
“At some point it can’t be acceptable for them to score like the way they did,” said center Nnanna Egwu, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. “We just made too many mistakes on the defensive end.”
Illinois was led by Joseph Bertrand’s 17 points. Besides Egwu, three other Illini scored in double figures: Brandon Paul—who came off the bench for the first time this season—had 13 points and D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams scored 10 each.
The big game from Brust and Kaminsky made up for a quiet one from Jared Berggren, who was the Badgers’ leading scorer entering Sunday. He drew two first-half fouls and picked up his third early in the second half, limiting his time on the court. Berggren finished with six points in 17 minutes.
Neither team was effective offensively over the first 20 minutes. Wisconsin shot under 30 percent for most of the first half and combined with the Illini to score 14 points in the game’s first eight minutes.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said the teams’ defenses deserve some credit for that.
“You have to give credit to the defense in the Big Ten,” he said. “It’s time or people do that.”
The Illini closed the gap on the Badgers very late—they shot 54 percent in the second half—but trailed by 15 with 5:13 to play.
The Badgers built that big lead on defense and a run of impatient Illini shooting.
First, Myke Henry missed on a long 3-pointer, answered quickly by Berggren, whose short bucket put Wisconsin up 53-41 with 8:54 to play.
Then, after a quick miss on a 3-point try by Richardson, Evans sank a jump shot from the corner for a 55-41 edge.
“I thought we had a stretch there in the second half where we went too much hero ball,” Illinois coach John Groce said.
“We took bad shots,” he added later.
Wisconsin survived a run by the Illini early in the half.
Illinois closed to 35-30 on a dunk by Egwu and had a chance to narrow that gap by two more when Bertrand stole the ball and fed Henry as he sprinted down court. But Henry, who plays just 10 minutes a game, missed the dunk. And an Assembly Hall crowd ready to explode instead could do nothing but groan.
Given that reprieve, the Badgers made Illinois pay.
Wisconsin went on an 8-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from a wide-open Kaminsky—so open he hesitated before taking the shot, glancing as if to look for a pass that might be the better option. And just like that the Badgers were up 43-30 with 14:33 to play.
Kaminsky, wearing protective goggles for his eye, played 23 minutes off the bench.
The Badgers shot 55.6 percent in the second half, and went to the free-throw line 31 times over those 20 minutes, hitting 19.
Wisconsin shot 35.5 percent from the field in the first half. Illinois made 29.6 percent.