MADISON, Wis. — There’s a reason we’re afraid of the blue uniforms.
Sporting the navy jerseys in Madison for the first time in three years, Illinois outlasted Wisconsin in an absolute slugfest, 61-51, on a snowy Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
When the Illini last wore the blues in Madison — Jan. 8, 2020 — it was the Badger faithful leaving feeling blue — a sophomore Ayo Dosunmu icing Wisconsin with a late three for Illinois’ first win in the Kohl Center in more than a decade.
But it was a different type of game on Saturday, after each team’s star scorer (Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr. and Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl) picked up two early fouls.
Seemingly no one picked up the slack, and the shooting early on was just horrific on both sides of the court: The two teams combined for only 19 points at the under-8 media timeout in the first half.
The scoring eventually — and it hurts me to say this — “picked up.” Illinois (15-6, 6-4 Big Ten) went into the half up 20-16 with scoring from just three guys: Dain Dainja and Matthew Mayer (eight points each), and Jayden Epps (six points).
Out of the break, the scoring quickly picked up, led by the grad transfer Mayer. Like much of the past month, the forward — now sporting an Uncle Rico mustache and headband — impacted the game on both ends of the court, highlighted by his shooting. It was a high volume of shots (19, including 11 threes), but he finished with a career-high 26 points, picking up the slack from TSJ and Coleman Hawkins (11 combined points).
Midway through the second half, the curse of the blue jerseys (now 3-20 in the Brad Underwood era) came to life, and Chucky Hepburn and the Badgers started making some shots, even taking a slim lead.
But an Epps three and a RJ Melendez posterization jumpstarted a 19-2 run completing the win for Illinois.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
DAIN DAINJAROUS: When no one found the bottom of the bucket in the absence of TSJ in the first half, Dainja at least provided some life. His eight first-half points — all inside the paint — kept Illinois within “striking distance” of the slumping Badgers.
FAWLS ON WAHL: It’s no question the Badgers’ best scorer this season is Tyler Wahl. But he was limited on the court after picking up two quick fouls in the first half. He eventually scored UW’s first seven points of the second half, but picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench again.
Illinois is now 3-20 in the blue uniforms in the Brad Underwood era.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The only play you want to see from this game.
Anywho, the responses to this tweet are great.
who does Matthew Mayer look like with the headband— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 28, 2023
wrong answers only
TWEET OF THE GAME
Wouldn’t have been a bad idea!
Please tell me they have orange jerseys in the locker room— Noah Cowell (@cowell_noah) January 28, 2023
Another chance for a season sweep.
Fred Hoiberg and the Huskers visit Champaign on Tuesday night.
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.