CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Wisconsin coach Greg Gard saw his basketball team falter in two critical areas with first place in the Big Ten on the line.
The Badgers couldn’t stop Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn on the inside and had no one who could consistently hit an open three-pointer.
That isn’t the type of inside-outside game that results in critical victories.
With Cockburn dominating the lane with 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Badgers missing their first 13 three-pointers, the Illini recorded an 80-67 victory Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 6,579 at the State Farm Center.
“We couldn’t hit shots and we couldn’t stop Kofi,” said UW’s Johnny Davis, who summarized the Badgers’ plight in a matter of seconds.
The Badgers came in shooting 42.7% from three-point range (47-110) in the previous five games. They went 0 for 9 in the opening half, missed their first four attempts of the second half until Lorne Bowman stopped the bleeding and finished 3 of 24 for a season-low 12.5%.
“Our goal was to hold them under four,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said.
Davis, who had shot below the 50% mark in five of the previous six games, hit just 5 of 19 shots against the Illini. He hit 11 of 14 free throws and finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
“We made all of his shots hard,” Underwood said.
Forward Tyler Wahl, gradually regaining the form he displayed before suffering a right-ankle injury at Northwestern, contributed 14 points and six rebounds. He had 12 points and three rebounds in the opening half.
Brad Davison, 15 of 27 from three-point range in the previous three games, missed all 6 of his three-point attempts and hit just 3 of 12 shots overall and finished with seven points.
“I’ll look through the 24 attempts but I thought for the most part they were pretty good looks,” Gard said of the three-pointers. “You have to be able to knock down some shots. That is our counter to Kofi.
“It doesn’t have to be astronomical. But you can’t be 3 for 24.”
Steven Crowl and Chris Vogt, given the task of battling Cockburn, didn’t fare well. Crowl finished with six points and zero rebounds. Vogt added two points and three rebounds. Both players committed four fouls.
Bowman and Chucky Hepburn added seven points apiece.
Cockburn hit 10 of 12 shots in the opening half for 20 of his 37 points. He finished 16 of 19.
“That was a dominant performance,” Underwood said.
Guard Jacob Grandison hit 3 of 6 three-pointers and added 14 points and seven rebounds for the Illini.
The Badgers (17-4, 8-3 Big Ten) missed an opportunity to move into sole possession of first place and lost for just the second time in the last 11 games.
UW is one game behind Illinois (16-5, 9-2), one-half game idle behind Michigan State (17-4, 8-2) and tied with Purdue (19-3, 8-3).
Purdue recorded an 88-73 victory over host Minnesota earlier Wednesday.
The first half was 20 minutes of entertaining basketball with players displaying skill and tenacity on both ends of the court.
Cockburn carried the Illini by scoring in the lane and his teammates complemented his work inside by hitting 4 of 8 three-pointers.
The Badgers went 0 for 9 from three-point range – Davison was 0 for 3 – but they countered by grabbing seven offensive rebounds and turning those plays into 13 second-chance points.
UW also had an 8-0 edge at the free-throw line and trailed by only 42-38 at the break.
The Badgers stayed cold from three-point range in the second half, however, Cockburn got pretty much whatever he wanted in the lane and UW faded after pulling within 65-59 on a basket by Crowl with 8 minutes 41 seconds left.
Cockburn hit two free throws and added a basket and Grandison hit 1 of 2 free throws and added a three-pointer to push the lead to 73-59 with 5:10 left.
UW was done.
“I don’t know if there is anybody else in the country at that size, with that mobility,” Gard said of the 7-foot, 285-pound Cockburn. “And probably as much as the effectiveness he has is how they surround him with shooters. You are cognizant of threes. And they do a good job of (passing) to him from angles that is hard to get help immediately.
“You play that cat and mouse game between what they can do in the paint vs. threes.”
When the final buzzer sounded, UW was in a tie for third in the league with Purdue. The Illini, who finished second behind Michigan last season but went on to win the Big Ten tournament, were alone in first.
“We worked really hard to be in first place,” Grandison said. “And we have to work even harder to stay in first place.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin at Illinois at State Farm Arena, game updates