The AP No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers got off to a program-best 16-0 start to the season on Wednesday, Jan. 8, dominating Big Ten rival Illinois 95-70 at the Kohl Center.
Bucky Badger! No. 4 Wisconsin blows out No. 23 Illinois, 95-70. 16-0 start is the best in school history.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 9, 2014
Five Wisconsin players scored in double figures, led by sharpshooting senior guard Ben Brust, who made four three-pointers en route to 18 points. Star sophomore forward Sam Dekker added 17 points of his own and matched Brust and Frank Kaminsky with a team-high six rebounds.
ESPN's Dick Vitale felt the team solidified its spot as one of the nation's elite with this commanding performance:
This Wisconsin team has so many weapons - don't believe me ask Illinois - wow Bo Ryan's club is LEGIT top 5 - plus they DEFEND!— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 9, 2014
A 20-0 run in the middle of the first half broke the game open for the host Badgers, and Champaign WCIA 3 sports director Aaron Bennett accentuated just how bad things got for the visitors:
#Illini can't catch a break. 20-0 run by Wisconsin, while Illini miss 13 straight shots. 33-14 Badgers w/ 7:30 to go til half— Aaron Bennett (@WCIA3Aaron) January 9, 2014
The Badgers continued a sensational display of team basketball in preserving their perfect record.
247 Sports' Evan Flood reports John Groce's thoughts on the Badgers' offensive prowess:
Illinois Head Coach John Groce on #Badgers: "They're the best offensive team we've had to defend all year."— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) January 9, 2014
With UW up 50-25 at the intermission, Big Ten Network's Mike Hall made a bold proclamation that holds serious merit, especially with how the Badgers continued to surge forward in the final 20 minutes:
Wisconsin has 50 points. At halftime. Against a ranked team. At halftime. This truly is the best Badger team we've ever seen— Mike Hall (@BTNMikeHall) January 9, 2014
Head coach Bo Ryan's squad entered this contest averaging the fewest turnovers per game in the country (8.5), and continued that trend by only giving the ball away four times all game.
Defense has been a consistent staple at Wisconsin during Ryan's tenure, but CBS Sports Network's Wally Szczerbiak noted the Badgers impressive performance on the offensive end:
Excellent spacing, smart decision-making and uncanny cohesion allow the Badgers to play seamless basketball. ESPN's Dan Dakich also weighed in on how exceptional Wisconsin's passing was:
Never seen a team pass better than Wisconsin.. Not Magic Johnson type passes..just passing— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) January 9, 2014
Their execution was peerless, shooting 56.1 percent from the floor against what was the conference's No. 3 scoring defense in the No. 23 Fighting Illini.
By stark contrast, Illinois shot just 31.6 percent for the game. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice topped all scorers with 19 points for Illinois, but he needed 21 shots to get to that total.
The lack of cohesion—and stalwart defense led by feisty Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser—forced Rice into poor shot selection and contested looks from the perimeter.
Only Joseph Bertrand had an effective and efficient showing for the Illini, sinking seven of 10 shots for 18 points. Even former Illinois guard and current ESPN analyst Sean Harrington couldn't deny how well the Badgers play together:
Might not be a team in the country that is more on the same page with each other than @BadgerMBB. Always know where teammate is at.— Sean Harrington (@smharrington24) January 9, 2014
History was also made when Evan Anderson hit a late three-pointer, per the Big Ten Network:
Here ls a look at some of the notable performers from Wednesday, along with a brief look ahead for each team's next contest.
Ben Brust, G, Wisconsin: A
Brust is a main cog in Wisconsin's offensive attack, and his prowess from long distance is a major reason why.
Although he entered the game shooting only 41.1 percent from the floor overall, the majority of his attempts come from beyond the arc, where he hits at a 43.8 percent clip. Brust poured in four of his eight shots from downtown to help take the life out of Illinois.
Rayvonte Rice, G, Illinois: B-
Rice and the Illini never quite recovered after UW went on the big run in the first half. The junior was unable to get inside the paint and finish on a consistent basis, which took him out of his groove.
This will be a learning experience for Rice and he'll be able to bounce back after flashing some outstanding form on the season prior to this difficult matchup.
Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin: A
Not to be all monotonous with the grading, but pretty much every Badger deserves an "A" based on this game's outcome. Dekker once again showed his offensive versatility and helped the defensive effort that put the clamps on Rice and Co.
A very bright future awaits Wisconsin this season moving forward, and Dekker is one of the key fixtures that will continue to make this squad a national force.
Joseph Bertrand, G, Illinois: A
Almost all of his teammates seemed allergic to the bucket. That wasn't the case for Bertrand, whose 6'6" frame allowed him to get better looks at the hoop and to continue a proficient season as a shooter.
The Illini simply needed more out of Rice and No. 2 scorer Tracy Abrams and didn't get it—courtesy of the amazing job the Badgers did more than any fault of their own.
The Badgers will seek to use this momentum to keep their outstanding undefeated run going when they travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana on Jan. 14.
This is a tough loss for Illinois, but second-year head coach John Groce has done a fine job overall and should be able to get his squad to bounce back. Redemption awaits in the form of a Jan. 12 game on the road against reeling Northwestern.