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Illinois returns to full strength, outlasts No. 11 Wisconsin in snowstorm

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SFC filled up despite a snowy day in Champaign.

Twitter: @IlliniMBB

Brad Underwood had one message for the Illini faithful prior to Wednesday’s matchup between the Big Ten’s best — show up, weather be damned.

Imploring Illinois fans to mimic his trademark #EveryDayGuys, Underwood campaigned for a sold-out State Farm Center despite a less-than-cooperative Mother Nature. The No. 18 Illini needed every cheer, chant and chatter in a close battle with No. 11 Wisconsin, but Illinois came out on top 80-67. With the win, the Illini move back ahead of Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings with nine games to play.

Kofi Cockburn certainly took his coach’s message to heart and didn’t let the blizzard conditions slow him down against the Badgers.

“He’s just too much, [Wisconsin] can’t contain him right now,” play-by-play announcer Brandon Gaudin said of Cockburn’s performance late in the first half.

Stop us if you’ve heard that before; There are simply not enough superlatives in the English language to describe the All-American’s game. Cockburn was once again instrumental, if not essential to an Illinois’ win, the big man recording 20 points and 7 rebounds in the first half alone, shooting a cool 83% in the process. He finished with 37 points, recording his second game this season with at least 30 points (38 vs. UTRGV).

Illinois (16-5, 9-2 Big Ten) pulled away quickly in the second half, extending a halftime lead of 4 to 11 with 16 minutes left in a contest that felt reminiscent of so many Wisconsin-Illinois matchups in recent memory. Instead of the Illini walking into a seemingly-impenetrable Kohl Center to face a veteran-laden squad, it was the Badgers (17-4, 8-3 Big Ten) who dared approach the grizzled faces of Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Jacob Grandison in their house.

Beyond Cockburn’s dominance, Illinois’ defense deserved a standing ovation for their performance, holding the (seemingly) immortal and ever-pesty Brad Davidson to 7 points and zero assists, and pestered future lottery-pick Johnny Davis into a terribly inefficient game. The Illini held the Badgers to under 40% from the field while limiting the Badger superstars’ impact — a recipe for success regardless of opponent.

Illinois showed toughness, togetherness, and star power in front of a packed home crowd. Throughout recent years, that sounded a lot like Wisconsin’s blueprint. Today, Illinois showed their similar blueprint belongs on top of the Big Ten.

CURBELO RETURNS

Illinois’ facilitator Andre Curbelo returned on Wednesday after missing the last two games while in the COVID health and safety protocols. The star guard did not have his typical impact, and had to be coached out of his chaos a few times. If Curbelo is in the game, though, you bet he’ll make a few highlights — featuring a King Kofi slam:

Can we get more of this? Please?

Thanks.

Sincerely, management.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

LOL what is this? Pray for whoever has to guard him.

SOUND SMART

Kofi is the 5th Big Ten player since 2000 with at least 40 double-doubles in his career.

Cockburn is now one double-double away from the Illinois career record.

Illinois limited Brad Davidson to his lowest-scoring game in Big Ten Play.

TWEET OF THE GAME

UP NEXT

Illinois hits the road and heads to Assembly Hall for a meeting with Indiana this weekend.

Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN.