CHAMPAIGN — It took Wisconsin 17 seconds Thursday to demonstrate how and why it would extend its seven-year domination over the University of Illinois.
Seventeen seconds is what it took for Ethan Happ to score from directly under the basket. Then Wisconsin’s crafty, mobile, 6-foot-10 junior did it again. And again. And six times in a row before one of his point-blank shots failed to failed to find its way into the basket.
Illinois’ inability to solve Happ’s free-wheeling drives to the hoop paved the way to Wisconsin’s 78-69 Big Ten Conference victory and the program’s 13th straight triumph over Illinois. It also ended Wisconsin’s recent five-game losing streak.
How long has it been since Illinois beat Wisconsin?
When it last happened — on Jan. 2, 2011 — Demetri McCamey was Illinois’ lead guard. He scored 21 points and Mike Davis added 11 and 14 rebounds. Peorian Bill Cole chipped in with 11 more points.
Yep, Illinois (12-13, 2-10) hasn’t beaten Wisconsin since fans were arguing about the value of Bill Cole.
Those days are long gone and now fans can argue how Illinois should have defended Happ. Because whoever was on him Thursday at State Farm Center failed to slow him down much. And Michael Finke, Mark Alstork, Kipper Nichols and Leron Black took turns trying.
And when it wasn’t Happ scoring, it was Happ passing out of trouble to open 3-point shooters. Wisconsin (11-15, 4-9) worked the inside-out game beautifully, hitting 8 of 15 3s.
“When Illinois puts that type of pressure on (Happ), we have to find other ways,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “Ethan did a real good job. He had eight assists. He’s a pretty complete player. It was very unselfish of him to find guys and his teammates did a good job of finding him at opportune times.
“There hasn’t been a game when he hasn’t been double-teamed or triple-teamed.”
Not even freshman guard Trent Frazier could offset what Happ was doing and Frazier gave it a heck of a try. He scored a career-high 32 points, made 7 of 11 from 3-point range and tried to keep the Illini in it nearly by himself in the second half.
He had a bit of help from Black, who contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds. But while those two were making 16 of 32 shots, the rest of the Illini team was making just 5 of 23.
Alstork, who scored 19 on Sunday at Ohio State, was 1 for 9.
Wisconsin was in front 54-52 with 9:36 to play when Happ went to the bench with his third foul. That seemed to be a chance for the Illini to make a move.
But with Happ out, Wisconsin actually increased its lead. A basket by Nate Reuvers made it 56-52 and following a turnover by Illinois’ Aaron Jordan, Khalil Iverson scored to put Wisconsin ahead 58-52.
At the 7:56 mark, Happ returned and quickly scored on another layup to make it 60-52, giving the Badgers a bit of breathing room.
Frazier was at his best when he personally scored 11 straight points for the Illini in the second half. The highlight came when he used a crossover dribble to lose Happ and launched a rainbow 3 that tied the game 44-44.
He tied it twice more with 3-pointers, first at 49-49, then at 52-52. But that’s when Wisconsin began pulling away.
Illinois hosts Penn State at 6 p.m. Sunday.