It was there for the taking.
Illinois again put forth a great effort, but came up short against a tough Wisconsin Badgers team on the road.
Progress is definitely being made for Illinois, but it wasn't all pretty tonight. I'm still impressed with how this team has transformed in recent weeks, and it bodes well for the future.
Who do you want with the ball in his hands late in a game? For Illini fans, that's clearly Ayo Dosunmu. He just seems to get better and better as the game goes along.
That doesn't excuse his poor first half, and his shot selection left a lot to be desired, but when it's crunch time, Ayo has responded time and time again. It's insane that he and Giorgi are freshmen. They play such advanced basketball. They make mistakes, but the trust is there for those two to go out and win the game for Brad Underwood.
Da’Monte's Defense/Flying Feliz
These two put so much effort into what they do.
A month ago, I left Andres Feliz for dead. There was just nothing he could do right offensively. He still struggles with that aspect. Same for Da’Monte Williams. The talent is there, but it hasn't come together shooting the ball.
However, these two are bulldogs defensively. They are not backing down from anyone. They are two of our better rebounders, which is concerning for two guards. They make it work though.
Their efforts have earned them more playing time, and rightfully so. Imagine if they found their outside game.
I must emphasize how much this team has impressed in recent weeks. Even on an off-night shooting, in a hostile environment, where everything has gone wrong, it was still close.
That goes to effort. You can see the team has much better chemistry with one another than last season. That's a testament to the coaching staff and the players accepting their roles on the team. It's brought back my joy for Illinois basketball, even in a lost season.
Giorgi Caught Looking
This is not to say this one play one or lost the game for Illinois. Giorgi Bezhanishvili got caught looking, though. With a two point lead under one minute, Wisconsin forced a bad three, and Giorgi had good position for a rebound. Somehow, Nathan Reuvers ended up with the basketball and the put-back for the dagger. Giorgi just didn't box out.
It was a freshman mistake. It'll happen. We've been so spoiled as a fanbase with Giorgi's recent play, we forget he's still only a freshman. I have no doubt he'll be more upset about it than we will. It just happened at a critical moment.
Boy, oh boy, do the Illini need more shooters. Hopefully, Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones can take respective leaps forward their sophomore seasons. The Illini need someone who can consistently hit a jump shot. Trent Frazier and Aaron Jordan are your two best shooters. They need help though. When their shots are off, it's hard for Illinois to score points. Ayo had some good looks, but didn't look smooth in his delivery until it was too late.
You're not getting much outside shooting from Feliz or Da’Monte either. It'll get better, but the coaching staff needs to add a few recruits who can consistently create their own shot. And finish.
Giorgi's non-boxout was just one of multiple instances where the Illini got beat down low. It was rough. Ethan Happ again was neutralized, but Khalil Iverson and Brad Davison imposed their will down low all game, beating our bigs to the basket and taking the Illini out of position. It was something effort had fixed in recent weeks, but Wisconsin owned us in the paint.
This aspect of the game will get better with a bulldozer like Kofi Cockburn in the middle. Good luck facing that frontline next year, Big Ten.
Overall, this was another good step forward for a team buying in. But, a win in Madison would’ve been a nice addition to our winning streak.