After a disappointing loss against North Carolina on Tuesday, the Illini played much better in defeating the Razorbacks, as the Illini had five men in double figures while improving to 4-1. A suffocating defense held Arkansas to just 33% from the field.
After shooting 0-7 on Tuesday, Nick Smith (10 points) came out of the gate early, scoring six quick points. The first seven minutes saw the Illini swarm to the ball on defense, getting out to a quick 10-2 lead. From that point on, the outcome of the game was not in question.
"We thought we could get up on them, pressure them and get them out of their offense," coach Bruce Weber said after the game. "We were aggressive and had a big emphasis on being physical."
His plan worked well, as Arkansas made just eight field goals in the first half.
Deron Williams (17 points) was again the star of the first half, scoring 11 points on 4-7 shooting. Williams played excellent defense, tallying three steals and converting on them, highlighted by a 7-0 run on which Williams scored four points. The sophomore forward continued his outstanding play by also finishing with 10 assists.
"Deron has been Mr. Consistency for us at each end of the floor," Weber said.
The Illini led 38-18 at one point and led at the half 40-25. The mistakes from last game disappeared. The Illini committed only five turnovers and were 6-7 from the free throw line in the first half. Consequently, the Illini took charge and ran Arkansas' young and small lineup out of the building.
The second half saw the Illini continue the attack, getting out on the fast break and getting to the basket. Dee Brown, who finished with 13, ignited a couple of those fast breaks, converting an early three and a lay-up off a baseball feed from Luther Head.
Most of the second half was relaxed, as Arkansas never challenged Illinois. James Augustine (12 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks) was the stud on defense, altering shots and swatting them away. His play typified the day for the Illini, as he was part of the overwhelming strength inside for Illinois.
Luther Head added 11 points as the Illini finished 45% from the field and 80% from the line. The Illini were able to give everyone on their roster at least four minutes, as the depth of the Illini proved too much again.
Bruce Weber was extremely pleased with the overall performance of his team, but still saw some things to work on.
"Our biggest negative was rebounding, and sometimes they were quicker going to the board than us. Defensive rebounding has to be there everyday."
Roger Powell, the team's leading scorer for the season, was held to just six points on 2-4 shooting. The junior forward played only 18 minutes and did not play most of the second half.
"Roger didn't play well, but luckily others picked him up," Weber said of his forward.
This was an important win for the Illini. They could have come in negative based on their mistakes from Tuesday night. They were able to patch things together and put forward a complete effort. This game was a typical Illini game, with solid defense, and outstanding guard play. The Illini wore the other team down with their quickness, solid screens, and cuts. The Illini look to continue the balanced attack Tuesday against Providence in New York.
"The biggest problem is keeping them all happy," Bruce Weber said regarding playing time.
If this is the biggest problem the Illini have, then the Illini's roster is one of the most talented and deep in the country. If this is the biggest problem the Illini have, they will no doubt be among the best in the country.