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Illinois basketball looks nothing like team that was 12-0 in Wisconsin loss

Illinois' guard BrandPaul (3) Wisconsin's forward Ryan Evans (5) compete first half an NCAA college basketball game Assembly Hall Champaign

Illinois' guard Brandon Paul (3) and Wisconsin's forward Ryan Evans (5) compete in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Robin Scholz)

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Updated: February 13, 2013 6:21PM

CHAMPAIGN — This swoon is really getting serious.

With its back to the wall, Illinois lost 74-68 on Sunday to Wisconsin, which tends to have trouble putting the ball in the basket when it’s not playing the Illini (15-8, 2-7).

This wasn’t merely the seventh loss in nine Big Ten games for
Illinois. Coach John Groce pulled Brandon Paul from the starting lineup. The erstwhile player-of-the-year candidate, who hasn’t been delivering on defense, also rode the pine for a long second-half stretch when Illinois was taking a last stab at protecting home court.

‘‘We have to make a statement that it’s not OK to have the type of defensive efficiency we’ve had in league play,’’ Groce said. ‘‘We’re going to play the guys that grade out. Everyone’s held accountable.’’

Paul wound up scoring 13 points on 3-for-14 shooting while playing 25 minutes, but he sat for long, important stretches.

After not shooting a free throw at Ohio State, Wisconsin was 28-for-42 against the Illini, including 19-for-31 in the second half. The Badgers shot 56 percent (10-for-18) from the field in the second half.

It was the fourth consecutive home loss for Illinois, its first four-game home skid since 2007-08.

The losses to Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan were by double digits. Only a too-little-too-late push kept Wisconsin (15-7, 6-3), which led 62-47 with 41/2 minutes left, from making it four double-digit losses.

With Indiana, which should be No. 1 after its win over Michigan, coming to Champaign on Thursday, the slide could continue.

‘‘It is what it is,’’ Groce said. ‘‘The next one’s coming right at you whether you like it or not. We have to prepare for a fantastic Indiana team.’’

At this point, the question is not how Illinois has sunk this low from its 12-0 start. The question is how in the heck did the Illini start 12-0?

The answer is a confident team energized by an enthusiastic new coach overcame its flaws by shooting the lights out. Now the Illini aren’t making as many shots — or getting nearly enough stops.

‘‘If we keep giving up 88 and 56 percent, and letting teams shoot 30-plus free throws in a half, we’re going to be in trouble,’’ Groce said. ‘‘The defense end has to get better. Unfortunately, our answer to playing hard when we get behind is to foul and be undisciplined.’’

Adding to the insult, when Wisconsin center Jared Berggren got into foul trouble, Frank Kaminsky came in and scored a career-high 19. Kaminsky, who had scored nine points in eight Big Ten games, was playing with goggles in his second game back from an eye injury.

‘‘I think he got pretty used to the goggles,’’ said Bo Ryan, who told the 6-11 sophomore from Benet to wear the goggles in practice after he tried to go without them.

Scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half, Joseph Bertrand, who took Paul’s spot in the starting lineup, gave Illinois’ offense a spark.

But as Groce said, it’s all about defense at this point.

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