The 23rd-ranked Illini haven't come out on top in most of their recent games against the Wildcats but will face a team that's dropped a season-high four in a row Sunday night.
After earning its first ranking of the season, Illinois missed 13 consecutive shots during a 20-0 run by No. 4 Wisconsin in the first half Wednesday and was never competitive after that in a 95-70 loss. The margin of defeat was the Illini's biggest since an 88-57 drubbing at Indiana on Jan. 26, 2002.
Leading scorer Rayvonte Rice (19) and Joseph Bertrand (18) were the only players to score more than eight points as the team overall shot a season-low 31.6 percent. Rice, who missed 14 of 21 shots, is averaging 22.8 points in his last four games, while Bertrand, who was 7 for 10, has reached double figures in a career-best four in a row.
Another bright spot for Illinois was a 25-5 edge on the offensive glass and a 48-35 overall rebounding margin.
"All in all, for me it's not about the statistics," coach John Groce said. "I didn't like how they responded to the 20-0 run there."
Illinois (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) had a four-game win streak snapped and will try to get back on track at Northwestern (7-9, 0-3). The Illini have dropped four of seven to the Wildcats but have won their last two in Evanston, including a 62-41 rout Feb. 17.
This time, they'll face a Northwestern team that's lost its first three conference games under coach Chris Collins by an average of 25.3 points. The Wildcats have scored 55.7 points per game on 37.4 percent shooting in those defeats while giving up an average of 81.0 on 54.8 percent shooting.
Northwestern allowed No. 20 Iowa to shoot 56.9 percent and was listless after falling behind 10-0 in a 93-67 road loss Thursday. JerShon Cobb led the Wildcats with 18 points after scoring a combined 14 in his prior three games, and leading scorer Drew Crawford (15.7 ppg) was the only other player in double figures with 12.
Crawford, a five-year starter, is set to face Illinois for the first time since scoring 13 points in a 74-70 road win on Feb. 5, 2012. He missed much of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
"It's going to be an exciting game," Crawford said. "I think the biggest thing is being ready for the atmosphere and the excitement in the building. We really have to be excited for this game and be ready for a 40-minute fight."
Illinois junior guard Tracy Abrams is the only returning player from either team to score in double figures in each of last season's two matchups. He had 13 points off the bench in the road win over Northwestern in February.
This game marks the only meeting between the schools this season.