Kofi Cockburn had 37 points and 12 rebounds and No. 18 Illinois beat No. 11 Wisconsin 80-67 on Wednesday night.
Cockburn had 20 first-half points on 10-of-12 shooting, including two rim-rattling dunks. He finished 16 of 19, making his last five shots for the Illini (16-5, 9-2 Big Ten).
Wisconsin matched up a pair of 7-footers, Steven Crowl and Chris Vogt, with Cockburn, but they were unable to limit his impact.
“My coaches emphasized how physical I should be in the game, so certain games you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Cockburn said. “I’m just prepared and ready for that. I don’t really think I was licking my chops. I think I can score on most of the bigs in the Big Ten, if not everyone.”
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Johnny Davis led Wisconsin (17-4, 8-3) with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Illinois took a 42-38 lead into halftime after shooting 19 of 34 from the field in the first half. The Illini opened the second half on a 12-4 run, including a 3 from Alfonso Plummer that made it 51-40.
Badgers guard Brad Davison fouled Plummer while shooting another 3 a couple of minutes later, and he made the ensuing three free throws to put Illinois up 12.
Jacob Grandison added 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Illinois. He was 3 of 6 from 3-point range, a significant improvement after going 1 of 10 from 3 in wins over Michigan State and Northwestern.
“I just decided I was out of my slump, from here on out. I literally just decided. I was talking to (director of recruiting and scouting Tyler Underwood) and I told him I was back, I’m good. Mind control. Power of the mind.”
Illinois: The Illini find themselves alone atop the Big Ten standings as the season runs into February, winning three straight games after back-to-back losses to Purdue and Maryland. Few opponents can muster an answer for Cockburn when he’s playing well, although a rematch with No. 4 Purdue and center Zach Edey looms on Feb. 8.
Wisconsin: The Badgers entered Champaign as winners of nine of their last 10 games, but now find themselves just behind in the conference title race with a trip to No. 13 Michigan State coming up on Tuesday. Even on a tough night, the Badgers can rely on Davis to produce, as he did on Wednesday. His abilities give the Badgers the playmaking needed to hang around in the conference title chase.
Illinois will play against Indiana University Saturday in Bloomington. Wisconsin is set to host Penn State University on Saturday, as well.