Published March 04, 2012
| Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. – Having seen players at other schools overflow with emotion on senior day, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan hoped his two upperclassmen would stay steady.
So when it came time for Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson to play their final home game, Ryan reminded them that they needed to stick to the Badgers' winning formula — few frills, even fewer mistakes — to beat Illinois.
Taylor scored 16 points and Wilson helped get things going with two early 3-pointers, then No. 14 Wisconsin's smothering defense did the rest in a 70-56 victory over the struggling Illini on Sunday.
"I alluded to it, but I didn't preach it, so to speak," Ryan said. "I reminded them about being ourselves. I've just seen it go the other way sometimes, and not for the betterment of the team."
Not that Ryan thinks there's no place for emotion on senior day.
"The emotion comes later, after the game's over, sitting there looking at baby pictures," he said.
Josh Gasser added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Badgers (23-8, 12-6), who have won three straight going into this week's Big Ten tournament.
Taylor — who is tied with Kirk Penney for No. 8 on Wisconsin's all-time scoring list — said he isn't an overly emotional player, but acknowledged it was a challenge to put everything aside Sunday.
"But at the end of the day, you've got to go out and play basketball," Taylor said.
Ryan downplayed an individual achievement of his own. It was his 265th victory at Wisconsin, tying Harold "Bud" Foster for most wins in the program's history.
It also was a big day for Wilson, who hasn't achieved the same level of consistent success that Taylor has at Wisconsin but might be finding his game at the right time. Ryan said Wilson struggled with injuries last season but has regained his explosiveness.
"It's real satisfying," Wilson said. "Better late than never."
The emotions are far different at Illinois, where coach Bruce Weber's future is uncertain after a miserable collapse in the second half of the Big Ten season.
Illinois (17-14, 6-12) has lost its last seven road games. Overall, the Illini have lost 11 of their last 13 since beating Ohio State on Jan. 10.
"It slowly but surely took the spirit of our kids, to be honest," Weber said.
Fans in Wisconsin's student section chanted "NIT! NIT! NIT!" in the closing minutes of the game.
Winning the conference tournament is now the only path for the Illini to make the NCAAs.
With the Big Ten tournament coming up, Weber sidestepped speculation over his job.
"I've coached for my job all year, so it's no different," he said.
Brandon Paul had 22 points for Illinois, which had only three assists, a season-low.
Wisconsin came into Sunday's game allowing an NCAA-best 51.8 points per game, and they looked every bit like the nation's top defensive team as they held the struggling Illini to only 18 points in the first half.
The Badgers took away whatever fight was left in the Illini early, hitting five of their first nine 3-point attempts as they charged to a 22-9 lead.
The Illini got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Paul at the end of the half, one of the few highlights of the opening 20 minutes, but still went into halftime trailing 31-18 — their lowest scoring output in a half all season.
The Illini shot 6 for 24 from the field in the first half, with seven turnovers and only one assist.
The Badgers weren't particularly impressive on offense in the first half, but they didn't have to be. Taylor had a team-high eight points at the half, going 2 for 3 from 3-point range.
Illinois made something of a surge to start the second half, cutting the lead to nine points on two free throws by Paul with 15:47 left.
But after the teams traded baskets, Frank Kaminsky hit a 3-pointer for Wisconsin and a pass from Paul went off the hands of Meyers Leonard and out of bounds.
Leading 42-32 with just over 11 minutes left, Wisconsin used a short scoring spurt to take control of the game. Wilson hit a long jumper, Jared Berggren blocked Paul on the other end and Mike Bruesewitz hit a jumper.
After two free throws by Leonard, Gasser hit a 3-pointer to give the Badgers a 49-34 lead with 9 minutes left.
Paul insisted Illinois players haven't quit on Weber.
"We talked about how we've got to motivate ourselves," Paul said. "He hasn't stopped coaching us, so we've got to keep playing. I don't think anybody has fully given up yet. People might think that, but anything can happen in this (Big Ten) tournament."