A 17-0 run late in the second half proved to be the difference maker as the Badgers fought back from 12 points down to take a 69-60 win from Illinois at the Kohl Center last night. Ethan Happ led the way with 20 and 12 boards, Nigel had 17, 3 boards, and 2 assists, and Bronson pitched in 14 with 5 boards and 2 assists. This was a game where the usual suspects stepped up down the stretch when they needed to, but bench production once again showed to be the glaring hole, with 4 reserves combining for 2 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists while all 5 starters played over 30 minutes.
There was nothing pretty about it, but this was a much needed win for a team that can’t afford any more bad losses. Illinois only has 4 conference wins on the year, and letting them come into the Kohl Center and get a win would not have been a good look for a bubble team that’s already let Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette do that same thing. This isn’t by any means a marquee win like an Indiana or a Michigan State, but it’s still one Wisconsin had to have at this point in the season. Now they’ve won 8 of their last 9 going into Wednesday at #4 Iowa, the biggest game on the schedule to this point.
If the Badgers can go into Carver-Hawkeye and get a win it should all but guarantee a spot in the Tournament, but I don’t think a loss breaks them anymore. Even if we can’t get another big time win this week, we could still end up a 20-win team in the regular season, which seemed impossible not that long ago. From this point out if they take care of the games they’re supposed to and win a game in the Big Ten Tournament too, the Badgers should be dancing for the 18th year in a row. That being said, all 4 games left will most likely be gutter wars – Iowa is a top 5 team, Michigan is another bubble team that will need a big win, we never play well at Minnesota, and nothing will be easy about going to #17 Purdue. Buckle up.