FINAL: Illinois 83, UIC 79
UIC 66, Illinois 66; 3:49 left 1H
Jalen Coleman Lands found his stroke (4-for-6) but the Illini are in a dog fight with one of the worst Division I teams in the country at the final media timeout.
Illinois 61, UIC 60; 7:29 left 2H
UIC claimed a 60-55 lead at one point -- a 16-1 UIC run -- as Illinois went 5:01 without a point and went 6:09 without a field goal. Dixson has 14 points in the second half on 6-for-8 shooting.
Illinois 54, UIC 52; 11:53 left 2H
Illinois missed its chance to blow the game open and UIC has come out the aggressor in the second half. The Illini need some leadership. No fire in the second half. UIC is on an 8-0 run and most are coming on layups.
Illinois 51, UIC 41; 14:54 left 2H
Another sleepy start to a half for the Illini. The Flames got the game within six twice, but the Illini have kept a little bit of distance. Malcolm Hill has joined Finke in double figures with 10 and Kendrick Nunn has had a nice start to the half. He now has seven points, three rebounds and two assists.
HALF: Illinois 41, UIC 30
Illinois won the final 15 minutes of the half by a score of 36-18. It should have been more but Illinois left a lot of points at the free throw line. Finke led Illinois with 14 points. Coleman-Lands added 9, and Hill had 6. Dom Mathews accounted for 60 percent of UIC's scoring (18 points).
FG: ILL 13-33 (39%), UIC 10-27 (37%)
3FG: ILL 6-16 (38%), UIC 2-5 (40%)
FT: ILL 9-17 (53%), UIC 8-10 (80%)
TOs: ILL 3, UIC 9
Pts off TOs: ILL 10, UIC 2
Rebounds: UIC 22 (4 off), ILL 21 (7 off)
2nd chance points: ILL 6, UIC 2
Bench points: ILL 15, UIC 5
Fast break points: UIC 7, LL 5
Blocks: ILL 3, UIC 4
Steals: ILL 3, UIC 1
Assists: ILL 9, UIC 5
Lead time: ILL 11:29, UIC 6:36
Illinois 34, UIC 24; 4:01 left 1H
Michael Finke is so skilled. He's shown off his shooting (5-for-7 FG, 2-for-3 three), passing and dribbling (he just went coast to coast). Illinois has its largest lead.
Illinois needs to quit fouling. It's keeping UIC (8-for-10 FT) in the game. Jaylon Tate has three fouls. Morgan and Nunn have two each. Matthews now has 18 points (6-for-6 FT). That's the freshman's season high.
Illinois 22, UIC 17; 7:16 left 1H
Illinois is on a 17-5 run, including 9-0 over the last 3:01. UIC has four turnovers over the last 3:27 and has made just of its last nine field goal attempts.
Hill has struggled from three recently (1-for-11 over last three games), until he just hit one. Jalen Coleman-Lands, who had gone 0-6 from three and gone scoreless over the previous two games, is feeling better. He's got 7 points and is 2-for-3 from three.
UIC 13, Illinois 13; 11:41left 1H
Illinois finally found some offense. They started the game 2-for-13 but have hit three straight field goals: a Jalen Coleman-Lands top-of-the-key three, a Malcolm Hill fadeaway and a Kendrick Nunn top-of-the-key three.
Matthews is 5-for-5. The rest of the Flames are 0-for-8.
UIC 12, Illinois 5; 15:10 left 1H
This Illini team shouldn't surprise me anymore but UIC is rolling them to start. Actually, Dominiq Matthews is rolling them. He's made all five of his shots and has all 12 of UIC's points. Illinois might want to get a hand in his face. UIC is on a 10-0 run. Illinois is 2-for-9 from the field and has missed 6 of its last 7 shots, including a few bunnies.
If you didn't see below, Leron Black is officially out for today's game. Smart move.
Illinois -- which had 9 different starting lineups over its first 10 games -- is going with the same lineup as Wednesday vs. Yale: Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Aaron Jordan, Malcolm Hill and Michael Finke.
UIC spent about 30 minutes of its pregame dunking -- and that statement is just slightly hyperbolic. Windmills, tomahawks, off the backboard. All of it. Maybe that's why they are last in the country in effective field goal percentage.
There are plenty of seats available if you want to come on down to the United Center.
20 minutes to tipoff
Even with a short roster, Illinois should -- key word, SHOULD -- handle UIC today. The Flames have THE worst effective field goal percentage among 351 Division I teams. They shoot 29.2 percent from three and 35.4 percent from two. They are the third worst free throw shooting team (57.9 percent). They turn it over at an incredibly high rate. Their defense allows a high percentage from three (41.1 percent) and don't force many turnovers.
The Flames start two freshmen and two sophomores. Their leading scorer, freshman Dikembe Dixson, averages 12.2 points per game and shoots 31.9 percent from the field.
There's a reason Vegas has a flawed Illini team favored by 19.5 points.
30 minutes to tipoff
As expected, Leron Black is not warming up with the team. John Groce said yesterday that Black likely would not play today. (UPDATE: An Illini spokesman says Leron Black officially is out today). He's had soreness and swelling since October surgery to remove the torn meniscus from his right knee. As I wrote, Illinois has 3 games over the next 18 days, so it's a good time to rest Black. They'll need him during Big Ten play. In the meantime, Illinois is more vulnerable without two elite rebounders (UIC's one strength is rebounding).
John Groce said the team is preparing as if Mike Thorne Jr. will not play the rest of the season. He is eligibile to apply for a medical harship waiver. Silver lining? If Thorne gets another year of eligibility -- and I hear his chances are favorable if the injury indeed keeps him out for the season -- Illinois has an exerienced, deep roster next season. But this season will be a struggle without him and Tracy Abrams.
40 minutes to tipoff
Kendrick Nunn is, as Dan Patrick would say, en fuego. Nunn has a combined 55 points on 18-for-30 (60%) shooting the last two games, including 9-for-13 from three. He has just one subpar game this season (5-for-16, 13 points against Notre Dame). That also was his only game under a 119 offensive efficiency rating, according to KenPom.com. That's really good (average is about 100).
Had a good talk with Illini radio network analyst Jerry Hester before the game. Besides just aggression and confidence, he said Nunn has a lot better footwork this season. He's more prepared to shoot, allowing him to be less streaky this season. While the Illini have a thin roster, Nunn and Malcolm Hill give them enough star power to have a chance each night.
50 minutes to tipoff
Another familiar -- smiling -- face is here. Former Illini great Deon Thomas is a second-year assistant at UIC. It's a good step up for the former Illini big man -- the center of the controversial NCAA investigation that took away momentum from Lou Henson's program -- who was previously the head coach and athletic director at Lewis and Clark Community College is Godfrey, Ill. Thomas' name frequently comes up in discussions about future Illinois assistants. Some think he'd be a natural as a big man coach (he was a second-round NBA draft pick and played in Israel for a decade) and as a salesman for Illinois. Some in the business think he has a lot more to prove as a coach and recruiter.
60 minutes to tipoff
Back to this being a game against UIC. Illinois wants to play a better opponent. This is a Board of Trustees game. And, again, it's somewhat understandable. Big sister Illinois helps out the smaller sister. But this deal isn't good for either program, really. The schools split revenue, but UIC also gets half the ticket base. I'm told they sold only 900 tickets today. Illinois sold about 3,000 tickets through its office with the rest of the tickets (not sure what that number is) sold through the United Center. Illinois has to split its share of the revenue with UIC.
Yes, Illinois should play UIC. So how about hosting UIC in C-U every year (UIC gets a payment game -- maybe bigger than what they're getting today) and then once every four or five years, Illinois plays at the UIC Pavilion and UIC gets ticket revenue for the game?
This should be a marquee game for Illinois, not one streamed on ESPN3 with fewer than 8,000 fans here (possible today).
80 minutes to tipoff
Malcolm Hill, Alex Austin, Michael Finke and Cameron Liss are the first Illini on the court. Good thing. Their shooting the ball a lot better than assistants Jamall Walker and Dustin Ford. The former D-I players don't have quite the lift they used to on those jumpers.
Ford and assistant Paris Parham were chatting it up with UIC head coach Steve McClain before the game. The first-year Flames coach is a familiar opponent. He served the last five seasons at Indiana as the associate head coach under Tom Crean. McClain has his work cut out for him. The Flames have fallen far since Jimmy Collins left. UIC is 1-5 this season with their only win coming against NAIA opponent Roosevelt. DePaul crushed UIC 82-55 and Central Florida beat them 88-58 a week ago.
100 minutes to tipoff
Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer publisher here, courtside on one of the baselines at the United Center. Illinois plays its 50th game at the United Center today, and this is the last game of a six-game contract against UIC. Of course, the then-12th ranked Illini lost to the Flames 57-54 in 2010. The Illini have lost two straight here and three of their last four.
This annual United Center game has lost a lot of prestige. Once upon a time, Illinois hosted UCLA (1996), Duke (1999), Kansas (1999) here. The matchups have been solid, but not as intriguing of late, including Georgia, Gonzaga, UNLV, Auburn and Oregon.
Today's game isn't even on TV. It's stream only on ESPN3.com. I'd expect a small crowd due to the opponent and the lack of excitement around the program. Official attendance at the State Farm Center for Wednesday's game vs. Yale was just 11,648.
The Illini have not yet scheduled an opponent for next year's United Center game. Word is that the Board of Trustees wants more games against sister school UIC.
My thought: go big. Get premier opponents here. With the program struggling, Illinois has nothing to lose by hosting big-name opponents here. It only has something to gain. Bring back UCLA and return to L.A. Bring in Texas and return to Dallas. Bring in Georgetown and return to D.C.. Heck, I like Mark Tupper's idea of a four-game series against Butler (one game at the UC, one in Indy, one in Champaign and one at Hinkle), reminiscent of the Gonzaga series. Those kind of series will excite the fans, the current players and recruits.
The trouble in scheduling this game is a return game. The Illini already have guarantee games with the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Gavitt Tipoff Games (three more appearances the next seven years), a Thanksgiving Tournament and the Braggin' Rights Game. John Groce wantsmore home games.
If the Board of Trustees wants a sister-school game, that's understandable. Just bring the Flames to Champaign ever year.