Illinois 61, Wisconsin 51: Last word

MADISON — Wisconsin faltered down the stretch and fell to Illinois for a sixth straight time, this one a 61-51 loss Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: Matthew Mayer

The Baylor transfer was limited to 10 points in the first game between the two teams and took just five shots. But with leading scorer Terrance Shannon sidelined with foul trouble, Mayer exploded for a career-high 26 points on Saturday. The 6-foot-9 Mayer took advantage of some smaller defenders in Connor Essegian and Jordan Davis, routinely getting good looks inside and out. He hit five 3-pointers and went 9-for-19 overall from the field.

The good: Max Klesmit returns

Wisconsin was at full strength on Saturday for just the second time in its last seven games as Klesmit returned to the lineup. He made his presence felt early, scoring the first bucket of the game, grabbing a couple rebounds and drawing a charge before the first media timeout. His energy was noticeable and he finished with 12 points, career-high eight rebounds, two assists and a couple of charges drawn. He was also the main defender against Shannon, who finished with just six points after dropping 24 the last time the teams played.

The not so good: The team is spiraling

The Badgers have lost six of their last seven games are in danger of falling on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with 10 games left in the regular season. Wisconsin was sitting in first place in the Big Ten at 3-0 on Jan. 7 but are now 4-6 and in 11th place less than a month later. Of the six losses, four have come by double digits, including the last two. The injuries to Tyler Wahl (missed three games due to ankle injury) and Klesmit (two games with facial injury) certainly set the team back but they had everybody on Saturday and it didn’t look much different. It’s worth remembering that half the conference season remains but time is running out for coach Greg Gard and his club to turn it around.

Stats of the Game:

18.5 — That was Wisconsin’s shooting percentage in the first half. The Badgers played well enough defensively that despite scoring just 16 points, they trailed Illinois by only four at the break.

22-4 — That is the run Illinois went on after the Badgers 13-2 run to take a 35-34 lead

0 — That’s how many points Chucky Hepburn scored in the first half and he started the game 0-for-6. He found his footing in the second, scoring a team-high 15 points

In Case You Missed It

— It was a day to forget for Essegian on both ends of the floor. Coming off tying his career-high with 17 points against Maryland, the freshman guard did not hit a single shot for just the second time this season. Despite getting some open looks from deep, Essegian was 0-for-5 from the field, including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. His three points were his second-fewest this year. Illinois also targeted him on the defensive end, especially when he was matched up with Mayer.

— Foul trouble cost the Badgers two of their best players for long stretches. Wahl picked up two fouls in the first 4:53 of the game and didn’t play again in the first half. He then had two more fouls within three seconds of each other with 15:28 left and was forced to sit again. The senior ended up playing just 19 minutes. Steven Crowl also struggled to stay on the floor. He picked up his fourth foul with 9:49 left and the game tied at 37. When he returned less than three minutes later, Illinois led by nine.

— A number of Wisconsin football players took in the game from the front row of the student section, including wide receiver Chimere Dike, linebacker Jordan Turner and offensive lineman Tanor Bortolini. Those three along with the other players that earned All-Big Ten recognition were recognized during halftime.

— It was also a big weekend for the football team in recruiting as a large group of potential recruits visited the campus and attended the game. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo and several other coaches were also in the stands.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (12-9, 4-6) will travel to face a struggling Ohio State (11-9, 3-6) squad on Thursday night.