Cats vs. Illinois, a preview

Arizona faces its toughest challenge this weekend when going up against Illinois. The Illini are the nation's best team and have lost only one game this season. However, they aren't unbeatable. Ohio State proved that earlier this season and the Wildcats hope to do the same thing, but it won't be easy. The Cats have to listen to Coach Lute Olson and follow the formula. Perhaps this will help them.

Illinois plays a moderate style of basketball that is very similar to Arizona's style of play. If the Wildcats can up the tempo or lower the tempo of the game it may throw the number one seed off just enough for the Cats to escape with a victory. However, the fighting Illini are a smart team and this will not be easy for Arizona to pull off.

Every starter for Illinois is averaging in double figures this season. They are no strangers to the three-point shot and they aren't afraid to shoot them. At times it seems as if the Big Ten champions actually like shooting three-pointers and taking bigger risks than not. Arizona must not allow their opponents in the Elite Eight to take open shots. All of Illinois' starters will take advantage of them and chances are they won't miss.

Illinois has the best guard trio in college basketball with Dee Brown (Big Ten player of the year), Luther Head (leading scorer of the team), and Deron Williams (extremely athletic). Arizona has to shut at least one of these guards down if they want any hope of winning. Mustafa Shakur, Hassan Adams, and Salim Stoudamire can not take the guards of Illinois lightly and must have an eye on them at all times.

Much like the Cats, Illinois also has an outstanding bench. Arizona's bench has come up big throughout the NCAA tournament so far and there should be no exception against Illinois. Kirk Walters, Chris Rodgers, and Jawann McClellan need to continue to play well off the bench.

Perhaps the key to Arizona's offense will be Channing Frye in the game against Illinois. Frye should be matched up with Illinois' James Augustine. The two big men are very similar, but Frye may have a little bit of an edge. Frye is averaging 7.6 rebounds per game and 2.1 blocks per game. Augustine is averaging just below that at 7.1 rebounds per game and 1.4 blocks per game. Frye will be crucial to the Cats' success against Illinois.

Defense is probably the most important factor in this game. It's no secret that Arizona has an extremely talented defensive team and they are going to need every last bit of it come Saturday. Perhaps man to man defense is the best way to go because Arizona doesn't want to double team and risk leaving a fighting Illini wide open. Full court pressure may not be a bad idea for the Wildcats either.

The final piece of the puzzle may be the most predictable. Every Wildcat must play this game like it is their last because it just may be Arizona's last game of the season. This far in the tournament the Cats have played great team ball and just about everyone on the court has played some role in Arizona's victories. It should be no different against Illinois.


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