Hawkeye Defense Hands Illinois First Loss

So this is what a road game in the Big Ten is supposed to look like. Illinois traveled to Iowa City on Saturday afternoon to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes, looking to extend their season opening winning streak to sixteen games. The Hawkeye defense had other ideas for the Illini though, as they stymied the Illini attack en route to Iowa's 63-48 victory, handing the Illini their first loss in the 2005-2006 season.

It took until January 7, 2006, but the Illini lost their first game of the 2005-2006 season in their first road game of Big Ten Conference play. The Illini traveled to Iowa City on Saturday, just two days after an emotional win over Michigan State, but the Hawkeyes were also coming off a road loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Thursday night. Both teams showed signs of fatigue early in the game as jump shots were hitting the front of the rim, but both teams relied on their stingy defense to keep the game close.

At half time, the defenses far outshined the offenses as Iowa went into the break with a 23-19 lead. Illinois coach Bruce Weber had to be upset with his team's effort on the offensive end, but upbeat heading into the break realizing that James Augustine and Shaun Pruitt had sat for most of the first half in foul trouble. But it was not the Illini offense that exploded for 40 points in the second half, it was the Hawkeyes.

Illinois' offense was pushed out to the perimeter for most of the game due to the Hawkeye pressure. The lack of offensive movement was eerily similar to Thursday night's game against Michigan State, but the difference between the two games was Dee Brown was able to knock down shots to carry the Illini offensive attack. On Saturday afternoon, Iowa hounded Brown at all times with a combination of defenders including freshman Tony Freeman and junior Mike Henderson. Brown turned the ball over five times, including a five-second call in the first four minutes of the game that would foreshadow how the game would go for the Illini on the offensive end of the court.

The defensive pressure of the Hawkeyes is not the something the Illini have seen yet this year, and it was evident in the movement of the Illini offense. There were numerous possessions throughout the game in which the Illini never got the ball inside the three-point line, and they just passed the ball around the perimeter before chucking up a wild and contested three-point shot. To keep the Illini offense on their toes, the Steve Alford routinely changed the Iowa defense with a melding of a 1-2-2 half court zone, a 1-2-2 full court press, and back to the Hawkeyes' traditional man-to-man defense.

Offensive Efficiency: 71.01
Defensive Efficiency: 93.20
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 18.42%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 66.67%

When the Illini offense has struggled this season, there have been two ways for the Illini to still put points on the board, offensive rebounding and Dee Brown. For the first time all season, both of these elements evaded the Illini in the same game. Iowa's inside defenders, especially Greg Brunner, did a great job keeping Illinois' offensive rebounders off the glass. With the Illini not getting the second chance opportunities they have been used to on the season and Dee Brown having a horrific afternoon of basketball thanks to the defensive pressure of the Hawkeyes, Illinois struggled to find a way to get the ball in the basket.

Another staple of the Illini offense in the past few years, creating run out opportunities with their defense was rendered non-existent by the Hawkeyes. The Illini had very few fast break opportunities against the Hawkeyes, and when they did get out and run, it seemed like Dee Brown would miss a contested lay up.

When looking at the box score, many Illinois fans will point to the foul differential as a reason the Illini lost the game. Yes, like every game, there were a few questionable foul calls (or no calls), but the Illini's reliance on the three-point shot to the detriment of their interior game was the reason for the foul differential. Highlighting this is Iowa's taking forty shots from inside the three point arc, to the Illini's only taking twenty-six shots from inside the arc.

Yes, there were questionable calls, but those occur every game. James Augustine's second foul was definitely a touch foul, and his fourth, the charge, was interesting to say the least. Brian Randle getting called for traveling instead of a foul on the Hawkeye defender who was underneath him when he came down was also an interesting call. Not to mention, the referees missing Brunner attempting to grab Shaun Pruitt's ankle, but they did call a foul on Adam Haluska on that same play which resulted in free throws for Pruitt.

The foul trouble told the story of the first half for the Illini, but it was the Iowa Hawkeyes playing stellar defense and playing just well enough on offense that told the story of the second half, and the game. Iowa showed why they are statistically the best defense in the country with their performance on Saturday afternoon. It is easy to say Illinois shot terribly, but on the season opponents are just shooting 36.5% from the floor against the Hawkeyes. The Illini were not far below that number, as they only connected on 34.6% of their shots from the floor.

The Illini will now have a week to rest and work on their offensive rotation before welcoming the Michigan Wolverines into Assembly Hall on Saturday January 14.

  • It is not always easy to say, especially after his "Big Ten Champions" fiasco five years ago, but for the third straight game, Steve Alford had a near perfect game plan against Bruce Weber and the Fighting Illini. Alford changed up defenses, pushed the ball inside, and ensured his team got back in transition to slow down the Fighting Illini. This time, his team was able to pull out their first victory over Illinois since Dee Brown and James Augustine were freshmen in 2003, and lost to the Hawkeyes in Carver Hawkeye Arena on January 15, 2003.
  • Outside of James Augustine, no Illinois player made more than three shots on Saturday afternoon, and only Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle hit three shots.

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