While they feel like that won't be the case, the Wildcats still face a difficult challenge in the Illini. It's an early game; a 10:00 AM start Tucson time, which have always been a struggle for Arizona. Arizona faces an Illinois team, at the United Center in Chicago, which has a 5-2 record with wins over Northeastern, Hawaii, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, and Weber State. They've suffered early season losses to Duke & Maryland.
Illinois is led by 6'10 senior forward Shaun Pruitt. Pruitt is averaging 10.3 points per game on the season, along with 7.4 rebounds per game. However, Pruitt is shooting just 42% from the field, along with just 52% from the free throw line. Pruitt teams up with junior guard Trent Meacham who leads the Illini in scoring, averaging 10.9 points per game.
The Illini are a team built on defense and rebounding. They're averaging 39 rebounds a game, outrebounding their opponents by 6.9 boards per game. Illinois is also holding their opponents to just 40% shooting from the field, including just 33% from behind the arc.
While they're not an explosive team on offense, averaging just 69.9 points per game, Illinois is a deep team. Head coach Bruce Weber elects to have a deep rotation with nine players averaging 10 minutes or more per game. The Illini will get good production from their bench, something the Wildcats must also find a way to get from their bench.
Arizona has ten players on their roster that average 10 or more minutes a game, so both coaches understand the importance of utilizing their bench. For the season, Arizona is shooting 51% from the floor, hitting on 41% of their attempted three point field goals. Compared to how well Illinois holds their opponents down on the offensive end, one of these things will ultimately give in today's game.
Illinois has the advantage in the rebounding department, averaging 6.6 more rebounds a game than Arizona. Arizona's top rebounder, Chase Budinger, is averaging 4.9 rebounds a game which is 2.5 less than Illinois' top rebounder. The Illini pose a big, physical front line, much like Kansas & Texas A&M did against the Cats, so Arizona's front line will need to be productive again in today's game.
Arizona's had issues early in games this season. They've started off slowly in a number of games, sometimes finding themselves down double digits early in games against the likes of Kansas and Texas A&M. However, both times they've managed to fight back regardless, which is the sign of a maturing and growing basketball team. Given the difficult circumstances that the Wildcats face heading into their game against Illinois, this team has shown the ability to rise up to the challenge on numerous occasions.
There are going to be growing pains for this basketball team. They're young, inexperienced, and growing up before everyone. Whether they come out on top in their game versus Illinois remains a mystery, but what we can expect is a team that will consistently play hard, and show us that the last thing they want to suffer is defeat.