Trent Frazier’s career-high 32 points just wasn’t enough to end Illinois’ now 13-game losing streak to Wisconsin, falling 78-69.
Senior Ethan Happ dominated the Illini much like he did when they played in Madison earlier this season. He filled up the stat sheet Thursday with 27 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
Happ controlled the pace of the game as soon as the ball was tipped off.
In the first half, Happ scored 16 of his points and he put his offensive repertoire on display.
When guarded by sophomore forward Kipper Nichols, Happ just simply backed him down in the post and used his superior footwork and post moves to get an easy two points when he so pleased.
When guarded by a traditional big man, Happ used his ball handling and quickness — something you don’t see everyday out of a 6-foot-10 center — to take them off the dribble and get to the basket.
“A really, really good player pretty much having his way with us,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “He’s a problem. We don’t have a lot of size... Figured we had to pick our poison.”
But Frazier got sick of the spotlight being on Happ, and decided it was his turn.
With 13:31 remaining in the game, Frazier crossed Happ on the left wing, getting all the separation he needed, and the freshman guard rose up to knock down the three and tie the game at 44.
Frazier wasn’t done there and scored Illinois’ next eight points to tie the game at 52, nailing a three-pointer from the silhouette of the state of Illinois on the court.
“It’s my teammates, they tell me to just keep shooting the ball,” Frazier said. “I caught a rhythm tonight, had a flow going.”
The following possession, Happ striked back, getting an easy two points on the other end, kicking off an 8-0 run for the Badgers. Happ also capped the run with his last field goal of the game with 6:28 remaining.
“We got to try and contain him,” said junior forward Leron Black. “We helped off a lot, (but) he’s a great passer and rebounder.”
Frazier, once again, fought to bring his team back into the game, burying a pull-up three off a ball screen. The shot made it a 71-67 Badger lead and brought the Illini fans at State Farm Center to their feet.
This energy-inducing play was immediately followed by a Mark Alstork foul before Wisconsin inbounded the ball. Wisconsin’s Brevin Pritzl hit both shots at the line and took the life out of the building when he hit another two free throws the following possession to put the Badgers up 75-67 with 1:17 remaining in the game.
The Illini couldn’t muster anything else in the tank to make one final comeback, and ended up falling for the 13th straight time to the Badgers.
Underwood said this game was a step back for his team, but still believes the Illini can go out and beat any team in the Big Ten. He is just looking for consistency from his team, and Underwood said he currently doesn’t know where to find it.
It’s still all about the process for Underwood, however.
“It’s a process, and do I like it? Absolutely not, I’m a bad loser,” Underwood said. “But the process has to happen, and we’ve got to continue to grow, and that’s all I’m asking our guys every single day. It’s about growth and establishing the identity we want to be about.
“Until we do that, nights like tonight happen.”
Illinois welcomes Penn State to State Farm Center on Sunday night as the Illini search for their third conference win of the season.