This is the second game between the Illini and the Wildcats in a span of 11 days. Illinois defeated Northwestern 58-43 on Wednesday, Feb. 7 in Evanston. In that contest, Warren Carter scored a game-high 17 points, Rich McBride had 15, and Shaun Pruitt had a double-double with 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
• After playing 12 consecutive Big Ten games, Illinois had its first bye this week. The Illini play three games followed by their second bye, and then finish the regular season at Iowa.
• Illinois is two wins shy of reaching at least 20 victories for the eighth straight season, which would also be the program's 26th all-time 20-win season.
• Illinois is 5-3 over its last eight Big Ten games after beginning conference play 1-3. Defense has been the biggest reason for the turnaround. Over the last eight games, Illinois is allowing an average of 54.6 points (437) on 40.3 percent shooting (156-387) and 24 percent 3-point shooting (29-121). Those numbers are a major improvement from the first four league games when the Illini allowed an average of 66.5 points (266) on 43.6 percent shooting (89-204) and 35.5 percent 3-point shooting (22-62).
• Shaun Pruitt has averaged 12.1 points (85) and 9.6 rebounds (67) over the last seven games, posting double-doubles in four of those seven contests. Pruitt tied his career high with 19 points and had 14 rebounds vs. Wisconsin (Jan. 20), had 10 points and 13 rebounds vs. Indiana (Jan. 23), 13 points and 11 boards at Purdue (Jan. 27), 15 points and five boards vs. Michigan State (Jan. 30), 12 points and six boards vs. Minnesota (Feb. 3) and 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds vs. Northwestern on Feb. 7.
• Rich McBride has averaged 12.8 points (128) over the last 10 games after combining for just 7 points and making one 3-pointer over the previous three games. McBride scored 15 points against Iowa (Jan. 10), had a team-high 12 points at Michigan State (Jan. 14), nine points at Minnesota (Jan. 17), 15 points vs. Wisconsin (Jan. 20), a team-high 15 points vs. Indiana (Jan. 23), nine points at Purdue (Jan. 27), 12 points vs. Michigan State (Jan. 30), a team-high 13 points vs. Minnesota (Feb. 3), 15 points vs. Northwestern (Feb. 7) and 13 points at Indiana last Saturday.
• McBride is shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range and is averaging 3.5 treys over the last 10 games (35-86).
• Brian Randle has shot 65 percent from the field (26-40) over the last eight games in which he has played, after making just 3-16 in the previous three games.
• Over his last 20 games, Warren Carter is averaging 14.1 points (281) and 6.6 rebounds (132). Included in that stretch have been three 20+ point performances for the senior power forward. Carter had a career-high 24 points vs. Arizona (Dec. 2), tying the highest point total by UI player this season, and 21 points vs. both IUPUI (Dec. 6) and Belmont (Dec. 17). During that 20-game stretch, Carter has been Illinois' leading scorer nine times and has reached double figures 17 times.
• In Big Ten home games, Shaun Pruitt is averaging 13.0 points (78) and 7.7 rebounds (46) while Rich McBride is averaging 12.3 points (74).
• In the second half of games this season, Chester Frazier is averaging 5.6 points, 2.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point range, compared to his averages of 2.3 points, 1.7 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 34.5 percent field goal shooting and 24.1 percent 3-point shooting in the first half of games.
• Rich McBride stands in fifth place in Illinois history with 197 career 3-pointers. He needs 12 treys to tie Luther Head for fourth on the list.
• Illinois ranks 16th in the NCAA in scoring defense (as of Feb. 15), holding its opponents to an average of just 58.8 points on the season.
• Illinois has started seven different lineups this season. Last season, the Illini started the same lineup in 32 of 33 games and two seasons ago, Illinois had the same starting lineup in all 39 games.
Last Time Out: at Indiana
Illinois had its chances to pull off a huge road win, but could not close it out in falling at Indiana 65-61 last Saturday.
The Illini fought back from an 8-point first half deficit to take a 33-31 lead into halftime. The lead went back and forth in the second half until the Illini pulled ahead 61-58 with under four minutes remaining. But Illinois would not score again, as turnovers proved costly. The Illini turned it over on four of its last six possessions as Indiana scored the game's last seven points to secure the victory.
Warren Carter led the Illini with 14 points, while Rich McBride had 13. Marcus Arnold came off the bench to provide his best performance of the season. Filling in for Shaun Pruitt, who was in foul trouble throughout the game, Arnold scored a season-high 12 points on 3-3 shooting and 6-6 from the free throw line.
Defense Is The Difference
Illinois has won five of its last eight games after beginning Big Ten play with one win through its first four games. The reason for Illinois' turnaround has been a commitment to defense, and the numbers back it up. Illinois is giving up an average of just 54.6 points over the last eight games, holding opponents to just 40.3 percent shooting and 24 percent shooting from 3-point range. Below is a statistical comparison of Illinois' defensive effort in Big Ten play over the last eight games compared to the first four games: