Cornell Visit A Chance For UI To Right Ship

If there is something positive about the Fighting Illini basketball team having a Monday home date with Cornell after its Saturday collapse against UNLV, there is no time to dwell on the loss. Rebounding quickly is the Illini's aim, and it is possible if they can focus better, play more aggressively and hit shots.

Illinois has precious little time to prepare for its next opponent. Cornell invades the Assembly Hall 7:00 pm in a non-televised game Monday. The team stayed in Chicago Saturday night so Chicago area players could spend time with their families.

It returned Sunday and went over Cornell schemes in an afternoon practice. It is precious little time for the players to get confidence back and correct mistakes, but at least they can neutralize the bad taste in their mouths from the UNLV massacre.

"The good thing about basketball is you don't have to sit and dwell on a game that doesn't live up to your expectations," Illini coach Bruce Weber stated. "We have a quick turnaround, we have Cornell coming in Monday night."

The Big Red are just 4-4 on the season. Coach Bill Courtney has some players from the Midwest, so he scheduled the game so families could travel to see their favored sons. The Fighting Illini hope that is their only value in visiting C-U.

"Cornell has won it's last two in overtime. I had a chance to watch them against St. Bonaventure. A crafty team, a scrappy team. They run a lot of ball screens, they shoot a lot of threes. We're gonna have to do a good job defending the three point line.

"It's a chance to recover and get a little bit of confidence. But we're gonna have to play well because they are definitely a team that's not gonna back down. It's a team that scraps and plays very hard."

Senior guard Drew Ferry (6'-4", 175) leads Cornell with 13 points a game. He is hitting 42% from the arc. Highland Park native Chris Wroblewski (6'-0", 180) is the second leading scorer at 9.4 points per outing, and the senior is handing out an impressive 5.6 assists a game. He is tied in scoring with freshman Shonn Miller (6'-7", 200), who also grabs over 6 boards a game.

Right behind him is junior Eitan Chemerinski (6'-8", 205), who scores at an 8.9 clip. Junior Josh Figini (6'-9", 205) is also over the 8 point a game mark. Junior Miles Asafo-Adjei (6'-2", 170) doesn't have great statistics but started the last game. Others who see playing time include freshman Gamal Cancer (6'-2", 175) and junior Johnathan Gray (6'-3", 185).

The Illini are suffering from their first loss according to Weber.

"It's what you think, they're disappointed. D.J. (Richardson) hit some shots and had 8 rebounds, but other than that I'm not sure you could call anyone else a good performance. Kids recover quicker than coaches and media, and it's a good thing to come back and practice."

UNLV exposed weaknesses in the Illini offense with its defensive intensity.

"Las Vegas is a good team. The Wisconsin coaches told us they didn't get enough credit for how good a defensive team they are. I think they helped themselves by not shooting a lot of threes, which didn't allow us to get some easy baskets. Missed threes sometimes leads to transition. And they guarded the heck out of us.

"Their length bothered us. Their switching at the point bothered us; we didn't get good reads. And we didn't have enough patience. We took questionable shots more than anything.

"I think we really shot ourselves in the foot at the end of the half. We had four or five not great shots, and it allowed them to go on a little spurt. We were hanging our heads a little bit going into the halftime."

Illini guards frequently were found standing on the perimeter without a purpose in mind. Given the youth of the team, the motion offense is not highly efficient yet. But when set plays were scouted well, the Illini didn't know what to do next except shoot.

"We have to limit our three point attempts. 85% of the time we went inside, good things happened. Meyers (Leonard) has to fight in the post and not get frustrated, and then the other guys have to be more patient.

"The guards haven't made the next screen. They made us play basketball yesterday. They made us react. They took things away from us.

"Sam (Maniscalco) looked at me to make new calls, but there were no calls. Once they took an action away, now you have to go make plays. They made us play. We didn't read very well. That's something everybody's got to get better with, there's no doubt about it."

Many are talking about Leonard being a high NBA draft pick. Opponents are focused on stopping him and taking him out of his game, and he may also be putting the cart before the horse. Once he starts thinking about his future, he forgets to work hard in the present and prevent his emotions from getting the better of him.

"We talked about it last year also because it bothered him last year. I told him if you want to be a pro, you've got to work at it. You've got to earn it. He probably doesn't have the maturity right now to deal with it.

"We're gonna sit down with him during Christmas time, 'Here's where you're at, here's what you need to do.' And see what his thoughts are. We've had to deal with this before with Deron (Williams), Dee (Brown) and others, and a lot of it comes down to the kid. He can focus on the season and the practices and getting better and not worry about down the road."

Yes, there were plenty of warts showing for the world to see Saturday. But the Illini know they are better than that. Now, they need to prove it against Cornell before facing tremendous Missouri in St. Louis Thursday.

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