No. 1 Illini Beat Ducks in Chicago

On Saturday afternoon, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini took the United Center court for the first time as the number one team in the country to face the Oregon Ducks. Despite the "neutrality" of the court in Chicago, Illinois fans filled the United Center with 21,224 orange clad fans. All five Illinois starters were in double figured lead by Luther Head's 23 points in his final regular season United Center performance.

Saturday's game marked the end of a stretch with three games in seven days, with the final three days away from the friendly confines of Champaign, IL and Assembly Hall. Illinois finished off Georgetown in Washington, D.C. to win their first and only true road game of the non-conference season. The Illini then practiced in Washington, D.C. on Friday before traveling to Chicago to take on Oregon. When the Illini arrived in Chicago they were the toast of the town, the talk of sports talk radio, and the Chicago Tribune even dubbed Chicago an "Illini Kind of Town".

Saturday's game started out pretty much the same way Illinois has started out every game this season, a quick run to erode the confidence of their opponents. With 16:47 left in the first half, Illinois already had an 11-2 lead over Oregon, and things were looking good for the number one team in the country. Oregon never led on Saturday, and they trailed by as much as 20 in the second half. The Ducks would make runs early in the game to bring the score within four points, but then the Illini would stop the run and once again extend the lead into double figures. For the ninth straight game, Illinois led the Ducks at halftime, and did not trail for one second in the final half.

On the offensive end of the court, the Illini were once again a balanced scoring attack, but it was Luther Head that was the star in his final regular season game in Chicago and the United Center. (The Illini will play in the United Center this year for the Big Ten Tournament and may end up playing in the Chicago Regional in the NCAA Tournament being played in the Allstate Arena in Rosemont). Luther led all scorers with 23 points on eight-for-ten shooting from the floor. His 23 points came on drives, spot up jumpers, in transition, and from behind the arc.

ILLINI OFFENSE / DEFENSE BY THE NUMBERS
Oregon came into Saturday's game playing at a faster pace than the Fighting Illini (just over 71 possessions per game for Oregon versus just over 68 possessions per game for Illinois), so both teams scoring over 60 points was not a shock at all. Illinois held Oregon to shooting 40.4% from the floor, and forced 15 Ducks turnovers with their aggressive defense.

Offensive Efficiency: 122.64
Defensive Efficiency: 95.16
Points per Possession (Offensive): 1.23
Points per Possession (Defensive): 0.95
Points per Shot Attempt (Illinois): 1.66
Points per Shot Attempt (Oregon): 1.16

When you look at the numbers that Illinois put up, it is not hard to see why the score was the way it was on Saturday. Illinois was able to score from all over the court, including the free throw line, a place that has eluded the Illini thus far on the season. On Saturday, when an Illinois player attempted a shot, they were open, or they were heading towards the rim.

The ball movement on Saturday was great for Illinois. 20 of the 29 made field goals came off of a teammate's pass. The possession that highlighted just how good Illinois was in moving the ball in their offense came in the first half. The Illini passed the ball six times without a single dribble after bringing the ball across the half court line, and found a wide open shooter who swished in through the hoop. This possession could be used in any coaching clinic about how to move the ball against a zone to find the open shooter; the Oregon defense was just helpless against it.

RANDOM THOUGHTS
  • The one week break for Illinois during finals will be good for this team. They just ended a long stretch of games between last Saturday in Little Rock and yesterday in Chicago. While finals will be taken, the Illini will be able to both practice for a week straight and rest up. The benefits of the practice week are enormous. Since, as Bruce Weber said, Illinois has not had to use many set plays in their offense to date, they will have a chance to work them in for the conference schedule. Without a game for a week, the practices can now be focused more on improvement than on game planning, something coaches love.
  • On Monday, Illinois should be the number one team in the nation for two straight weeks for the first time in school history. Read that again. Savor it Illini fans, this is a special team and a special time to be an Illinois basketball fan.

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