Top-ranked Illinois got just what it wanted -- a chance to end Wisconsin's 38-game home winning streak.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber noticed last week that some of his players were quietly cheering for Wisconsin in its narrow 62-59 home win over Michigan State.
"I heard a couple guys under their breath say they wanted Wisconsin to beat Michigan State,'' Weber said, "so they'd have the chance to be the ones to break the streak.''
The Illini (19-0, 5-0 Big Ten) look to snap the longest home winning streak in the country and remain undefeated as they visit the 18th-ranked Badgers (13-3, 4-1) on Tuesday.
Illinois is off to the best start in school history and has been ranked No. 1 for eight consecutive weeks.
However, coach Bruce Weber has claimed that his team should be considered an underdog against Wisconsin. The Badgers have not lost at home since Dec. 4, 2002, when Wake Forest beat them 90-80, and have won by an average of 20.4 points per game during the streak.
"We don't talk about it, never have,'' said coach Bo Ryan, who has a 53-2 home record at Wisconsin. "Sure as I'm sitting here in a red jacket, I have never once said anything in the locker room, outside the locker room, to our guys about a streak.''
Only five games have been decided by single digits during the streak, including the win over Michigan State. The Badgers scored the game's final 11 points to rebound from an eight-point deficit with less than two minutes to play.
Illinois has lost five straight at Wisconsin, but Wisconsin is just 1-14 all-time against No. 1 teams. The Illini are one of only three remaining unbeaten teams, along with No. 2 Duke and No. 8 Boston College.
"The reason Illinois is so tough is that they've got seven guys that can knock down some shots. But we just need to approach this like all our other games,'' Badgers senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "For them to say they're the underdogs, it would be hard to be believe from my standpoint.
"They're a great team, but we have the big home winning streak, so it should be a hotly contested game.''
The Illini beat No. 23 Iowa 73-68 in overtime on Thursday. Luther Head scored 25 points, including Illinois' only field goal in the extra period.
Head, who went on a 12-2 run all by himself in the first half, has led the Illini in scoring in four straight games.
"Luther was huge,'' said Weber, whose team has won 15 straight conference games, including a school record-tying eight straight on the road. "He just did a lot of big things for us.''
The Illini shot a season-worst 33 percent and were 6-of-28 from the 3-point line.
The Badgers beat Michigan 72-61 on Saturday for their eighth win in nine games. Fifth-year senior Mike Wilkinson had 28 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, becoming just the second player, along with Claude Gregory, in school history with at least 1,250 points and 700 rebounds.
Wilkinson, who went 9 of 11 from the field and 8 of 10 from the free throw line, was named Big Ten player of the week for the second straight week.
"Great effort, great performance, magnificent job? Yes.'' Ryan said. "That's as good as I've seen.''
Illinois leads the all-time series between the schools 102-68, but trails 50-36 in games played at Wisconsin.
Should be a great game.