The Match-up to Watch

Illinois' star Brandon Paul will be guarded by lengthy Colorado forward Andre Roberson in Friday's NCAA Tournament game.

AUSTIN, Texas - Basketball is routinely called a game of match-ups, and the one to watch when Illinois takes on Colorado Friday is Brandon Paul versus Andre Roberson.

Paul, the Illini's star scorer averaging nearly 17 points a game, at least initially, will be guarded by the 6-7 Roberson. Regarding Roberson, the nation's second-leading rebounder with over 11 a game, the term length is an understatement. His wingspan is over seven feet.

"Robinson's a real athletic kid. He lives on the rebounding and he's like a double digit guy every night," Paul said. "I know he's real athletic, so it's going to be a challenge."

The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Roberson's physical advantages are obvious and certainly beneficial to his success. But after watching tape of the Buffaloes all week, Illinois coach John Groce was most impressed with Roberson's understanding and basketball smarts.

"The thing I appreciated the most watching him is his intelligence," Groce said. "I think his IQ's tremendous. I watch him on film and then to see how he anticipates, his vision, which also makes him a great defender."

Paul has scored at least 13 points in 29 of 34 games this season, including 11 20-plus point performances. His 16.6 average is the highest by an Illini in a decade. Colorado coach Tad Boyle said the first step to defending Paul is to be in position when he catches the ball.

"He's got deep range, he's a he's got the green light. He'll let it fly when he catches it," Boyle said. So I think being there on the catch and the one thing Andre's got is he's got great length, he's got great athleticism. He's going to have to get through a lot of screens. He'll get some bumps and bruises tomorrow, but using his length and athleticism to be there on the catch and play Brandon's shot high is the key. Because he's got a quick release and he's a very capable shooter of getting hot and we want to try to not let that happen."

Roberson has been defending at a high level for going on two seasons. Now a junior, he's led the Buffaloes in rebounds, blocks and steals the past two years.

Although listed as a forward, he routinely has guarded opposing team's best perimeter player. Friday's game will be no different.

Of his approach in defending Paul, Roberson said he'll, "try not to give him any breathing room, dictate where he goes, not where he wants to go. Just be aggressive with him. Try not to let him get shots off because he's a dangerous player and he likes the three ball. So we have a great game plan for him and I'll have to execute it."

While Paul's point-production will surely be important in the outcome of the game, Groce stressed that the game will be decided by more than a single one-on-one matchup. He says Paul anticipates heavy attention from Roberson and that the team will adjust accordingly.

"It's not Roberson versus Paul and Paul versus Roberson, it's Illinois versus Colorado," Groce said. "I think that Brandon, as an older player, understands that. Obviously he's an important part of what we do, just like Roberson is an important part of what Colorado does. So we'll take that for what its worth."

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