Illini Fighting A Letdown

FAYETTEVILLE -- Before Arkansas played Tulsa on Tuesday, sophomore guard Olu Famutimi didn't want to compare the challenge of guarding the Golden Hurricane's Jarius Glenn to Illinois star Deron Williams.

"We're just thinking about Tulsa right now," he said.

The Razorbacks (5-0) aren't intimidated by playing white-hot No. 5 Illinois (5-0) fresh off its 91-73 undressing of temporary No. 1 Wake Forest on Wednesday, but no one could blame Arkansas for not wanting to think about Illinois any sooner than necessary.

The Fighting Illini have staked a mid-week claim to being the best team in the nation after two straight blowouts of Gonzaga and Wake Forest.

Illinois is shooting a lights-out 46 percent from the 3-point line (57 of 124), outrebounding opponents by nearly five per game and has an immaculate 2-to-1 assist to turnover margin after a 27-6 ratio against the Demon Deacons on Wednesday.

Second-year Illinois coach Bruce Weber's phone has been ringing nonstop since his team took apart Wake Forest and he got barely more than an hour of sleep between doing west coast radio shows after the win, early shows Thursday morning and an abundance of "electrodes" keeping his legs bouncing and his head buzzing.

Every basketball pundit in the country has already tabbed Illinois No. 1, but unless the Illini take care of business against Arkansas on Saturday at 1 p.m. in North Little Rock's Alltel Arena, its win against Wake Forest could turn out to be just of a blip on the national radar with polls not tabulated until Sunday night.

"I'm not going to use it that much, but they're smart," Weber said. "They know. (The media) talk to them and everyone talks to them. I couldn't get off the court last night. Every camera was in my face, 'Are you No. 1?'

"I hope it's a motivator. I hope it's something that gets us ready for the game."

Weber foresaw the possibility of his team being undefeated and coming off a win against Wake Forest heading into its first road game of the year.

When he circled a game on the schedule in the preseason, it wasn't Wake.

It was Arkansas.

Not because he thought the Razorbacks were better than Wake Forest, but because they weren't.

Weber didn't want his players getting aboard that train of thought.

He knew Arkansas coach Stan Heath would be bringing back mostly the same team his Illini defeated 84-61 in Chicago last season.

He also knew the Razorbacks won the rebounding battle last year despite being undersized and without the services of their tallest post player in the game.

"They were a young team, it was their first road game and they just weren't ready for us and ready for that situation," Weber said. "Now it's the same guys basically a year later and they've been through the wars of the (Southeastern Conference).

"They're a much better team. They are very athletic. They have very skilled people. They killed us on the boards last year if you remember (42-40). It's a team that if we don't start making threes and they're killing us on the boards, we could be in trouble."

So far, no one has been able to stop Illinois' backcourt of senior Luther Head, junior Dee Brown, Williams or sophomore Rich McBride from making threes.

Head and Brown are shooting better than 50 percent from outside and 22 of McBride's 23 field goal attempts have been beyond the arc (10 of 22, 45.5 percent).

Four of Illinois' starters are averaging double figures led by Head's 17.2 clip. Brown is scoring 15.5 per game, Williams 13.6 and Roger Powell 12.6.

Junior forward James Augustine is averaging 9.8 points and a team-leading 7.2 rebounds per game.

The Illini are so deep, Weber has been able to move 7-2 senior Nick Smith to a reserve role and shift Powell from a small forward to the post with excellent results.

Powell is hitting 75.7 percent of his shots (28 of 37) and had a game-high 19 against Wake Forest.

"They have great balance across six or seven guys they play with," Heath said. "Obviously the 3-point shooting is devastating how they shoot the ball so well from so many different positions.

"There's some times they can put Nick Smith in and have five guys who can shoot the three very well. They get up and down the court so fast and they share the ball so well. That's what really impressed me last night and in other films."

Weber said he's actually glad to be hitting the road so soon after the biggest win of his short tenure in Champaign.

He has a senior-junior laden team high on chemistry and savvy, but he doesn't want them getting complacent.

"I'm glad we're getting out of here to go practice down there," Weber said. "We need to start focusing on Arkansas.

"I'm sure everyone on campus is getting a pat on the back. So I'm hoping they have the maturity to come to practice with a good sense of urgency that we have more games to play."

Illinois has a large target on its back now and though Weber isn't sure his team knows exactly how big it is, he pointed to a series of games last year when the Illini played a string of desperate teams down the stretch in Big 10 play and in the conference tournament and came away with wins.

"We played in some big games where teams should be motivated and we were able to respond," he said. "Hopefully that experience will help us now."

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