Illinois Guts Out Win Over Arkansas

Even after the Gonzaga and Wake Forest games and all the praise that was laid on the Illini by the national media, people were still wondering how the Illini would respond to their first punch in the face this season. Well, that question was answered this afternoon as the Illini took a shot to the face by the Arkansas Razorbacks, and still came out of Little Rock with 68-57 victory improving their record to 6-0.

For the first time all season, Illinois did not enter half time with a lead of more than ten points. It was also the Illini's lowest scoring first half of the season, and only the second time they did not score fifty points in the first half (the other was against Oakland when they scored 47). So, what happens when the outside shot is not falling and the offense is not running to perfection? Illinois grits out a win with their defense on a hostile court.

The Illini's back court trio of Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams that was getting all the press before the game struggled all afternoon against the longer Arkansas backcourt. The three players combined for 34 of Illinois' 72 points, but they only shot 36.0% from the floor, including 35.7% from behind the three point line. In addition to their relatively poor shooting on the afternoon, the Illinois guards also accounted for 11 turnovers (7 from Dee Brown) and only 10 assists, the first time all season they did not combine for more assists than turnovers.

The Illini who played the best on the offensive end of the court was senior Roger Powell, Jr. His nineteen points and eleven rebounds led the Illini in both statistical categories. Roger had the signature play of the afternoon when he raised up over the Arkansas defense to dunk the ball with authority. Elsewhere on the interior, James Augustine scored five points and pulled down five rebounds while Nick Smith added seven points.

ILLINI OFFENSE / DEFENSE BY THE NUMBERS
This was Illinois' lowest score in a game all season. In fact the Illini's 72 points was thirteen points less than their previous low output against Oakland on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Defensively, the 60 points ties the second lowest total point output of the season against the Illini (the lowest total point output was Oakland's 54).

Offensive Efficiency: 95.49
Defensive Efficiency: 85.62
Points per Possession (Offensive): 0.95
Points per Possession (Defensive): 0.86
Illinois' Points per Shot: 1.38
Arkansas' Points per Shot: 1.15

Saturday afternoon was the first time Illinois was below the one point per possession mark all season. It was also the first time Illinois was in a truly hostile environment. The Gonzaga game may have been played in Indianapolis, but Conseco Field house was definitely pro-Illini. That cannot be said about the Alltel Arena in Little Rock, as it was definitely pro-Razorbacks.

When discussing the Illini offense in his post game comments on the radio broadcast, Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber said that this was one of the first times Illinois had to run some set plays to score out of their offense. He said that the Illini had run one or two set plays against Oakland and Wake Forest, but this was the first time their motion was not generating points, and required them to use his quick hitter plays to get some points.

Defensively, Illinois was better than they were offensively. The held Arkansas to just 0.86 points per possession and the Razorbacks only shot 36.5% from the field on the game. The Illini were also able to keep Arkansas off of the offensive glass, as they rebounded 72.7% of the Razorbacks missed shots. Last season Arkansas out rebounded Illinois by 20 and they rebounded 51.7% of their own missed shots leading to fifteen Razorback offensive.

PLAYER BREAKDOWN
Luther Head
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
35 2-7 1-5 3-4 0 3 3 2 21 0 0 3 8

Luther Head just did not seem to be into the basketball game on Saturday afternoon. He was not in the flow of the game, and his shot was not falling. In the second half, Luther drew the defensive assignment of Arkansas' Ronnie Brewer. Brewer scored ten of his game-high twenty-one points in the second half while Luther was guarding him.

Roger Powell
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
33 6-11 1-2 6-10 4 7 11 0 1 0 1 2 19

For the second straight game, Roger Powell gets the game ball from IlliniBoard.com.

At times during Saturday afternoon's game, Roger seemed to be the only player completely into the game for the Fighting Illini. He was aggressive offensively, and continued to show his improved offensive game by stepping out and hitting a three pointer. Now, when teams are matching up with the Illini, they will need to worry about Roger's ability to stretch a defense at the four position, as well as the Illini guards.

Roger was once again a beast on the offensive boards for the Fighting Illini. He pulled down four offensive rebounds and scored four second chance points for the Illini. He was also key on the complete turnaround for the Fighting Illini on the glass as compared to last season against Arkansas as he pulled down seven defensive rebounds.

James Augustine
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
19 1-3 0-0 3-8 1 4 5 1 1 0 0 4 5

For the first time this season, James Augustine found himself in foul trouble. He picked up two fouls in the first half and was relegated to sitting next to Bruce Weber on the bench for the final 10:28 of the first half. Offensively, James struggled to get shots off around Arkansas' freshman Steven Hill. The seven-two center from Missouri had six blocked shots, and frustrated Illinois players on the inside all game.

The free throw line was where James struggled the most on Saturday afternoon. After making three of his first four free throws in the first half, Augustine struggled from the free throw line for the rest of the game, missing his next four opportunities. James got visibly frustrated with himself on the free throw line, and that led to him aiming his free throws instead of just shooting them.

Deron Williams
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
36 3-11 2-4 5-6 0 4 4 5 3 0 0 2 13

Deron struggled on Saturday afternoon to score points. He also had the turnover that will be the most played turnover highlight for the Illini guards as he was picked clean by Arkansas' Ronnie Brewer just over half court that lead to a Brewer slam dunk.

Offensively, Deron really struggled as he only shot 27.3% from the floor. The one good sign about his offensive struggles is that they did not come exclusively from behind the arc. He was only one-of-seven from inside the arc, and he was one of the many victims of Arkansas' Steven Hill.

Dee Brown
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
37 4-7 2-5 3-4 0 1 1 3 7 2 0 4 13

I think Dee Brown would say today was his worst game of this season. After not turning the ball over for two straight games against Gonzaga and Wake Forest, Dee made up for it by handing the ball to Arkansas seven times on Saturday afternoon. The highlight of the day for Dee Brown was a steal and full court lay up with his left hand. With Dee's ability and apparent new desire to use his left hand, I will no longer track every time Dee makes a left handed lay up.

Rich McBride
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
13 1-3 0-2 0-0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 1 2

For the first time all season Rich McBride scored on a two point jump shot, and did not score on a three point shot. Rich is playing with a confidence that he did not have last season. Bruce Weber has to be happy when he sees that level of confidence displayed by his sophomore sharp shooter.

Warren Carter
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
2 1-3 0-0 1-1 0 2 2 0 0 1 0 1 3

Warren received two minutes of play in the first half as Bruce Weber was trying to withstand the Illini foul trouble on the front line. He pulled down a few nice rebounds and made a three point play for the Illini. He is getting more and more comfortable playing at the college level, and the more time he can get early in the season, the better it will be for Illinois in the long run.

Nick Smith
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
16 3-6 1-1 0-2 1 1 2 1 1 0 2 4 7

This was Nick's best game offensively of the season. His three point shot extended the Illini lead to 53-43 with 11:14 left in the game, and it was Illinois' only points in a 3:40 stretch in that second half. Despite being a solid free throw shooter, in fact one of the best, he was infected by the Illini free throw shooting virus as he missed both of his free throw attempts on the afternoon.

Jack Ingram
MIN FG 3P FT OFF DEF TOT AST TO STL BLK PF PTS
10 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 3 3 0 0 0 1 3 2

Jack played just like expected in his ten minutes. He set some solid screens, and he rebounded the basketball. His two points came on a twelve-fifteen foot jump shot off of a ball screen. This is a shot that Jack needs to keep making, and if he does he will continue to see about five-ten minutes a game in the Illini big man rotation.

RANDOM THOUGHTS
  • I called this game a trap game right after the Wake Forest game, and I still think that is what it was. So, did Bruce Weber. As the announcers on TV would not let us forget, he circled this game before the season even started as one of Illinois' most important games of the non-conference schedule. The Illini were coming down from an emotional high after Wednesday's dismantling of Wake Forest, and they were able to guy out a win in Little Rock. This is what great teams do.
  • When the Illinois offense is clicking, they will win games by thirty. As fans, we have already seen this with the five previous wins of the season. Saturday afternoon, Illinois struggled offensively, and they answered the question of how they would win games without a torrid offensive output, defense.
  • Arkansas was ready for the Illini's double teaming after high ball screens and they used it to their advantage in the first half. Bruce Weber adjusted and called off the double teams and hedging on high ball screens to improve Illinois' defense. It worked.
  • After today's win, I expect Illinois to jump over Kansas in the ESPN / USA Today Coaches' Poll and take over the number one spot in the country thanks to the exposure they got after the Wake Forest game. I don't think Illinois will have enough to jump into the Number One slot in the AP poll. The Number One position there should go to either Kansas, Georgia Tech, or Syracuse. It is too tough to jump three teams in the polls, even after a win like they had against Wake Forest.



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