Illinois tired late in the Clemson game, and some of that was likely due to the rugged schedule of playing back to back games in South Padre Island, Texas, the previous weekend. The Illini didn't arrive home until Sunday at 3:00am before having to take on a fast-paced, athletic Clemson Tuesday evening.
Now, after finally having a day off, the Illini must wrestle with a Georgia team Saturday morning that has massive brutes in the front line and a coach who demands defensive intensity. Dennis Felton almost beat Illinois in the NCAA tournament with his Western Kentucky crew before taking over at Georgia. He impressed the Illini contingent then with his relentless defensive style.
Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey has great respect for the Bulldogs.
"We're playing a good Georgia team that won the SEC Tournament last year, so they're gonna be real tough. They're a real good team. They play real tough defense, so the game's gonna be real competitive. They play real hard. We have to be ready to come out fighting."
Georgia has a massive front line. Starters include 6'-8", 270 pound freshman Jeremy Price and 6'-10", 265 pound junior Albert Jackson. Price averages 6 points a game and 5 rebounds, and Jackson averages 3 and 3.
However, Georgia's best big man may be freshman Trey Thomkins (6'-9", 247). Thomkins was slowed by a variety of injuries, including a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss his first four games. But in the three games since, he has led the team with 14.3 points a game and 5 rebounds. He was named SEC Newcomer Of The Week last week and figures to be a starter in the near future.
The second leading scorer is junior Terrance Woodbury, a 6'-7", 220 pounder who averages 13.1 points a game. Zac Swansey, a 6'-1", 175 pound sophomore, runs the team from the point. He is joined in the backcourt by 6'-3", 195 pound senior Corey Butler. Both Swansey and Butler average between 7-8 points a game. Another top reserve is freshman Travis Leslie. The 6'-4" athlete averages over 8 points per game.
Mike Davis is well aware of the contrast between his slender body and Georgia's massive frontliners.
"I think they have four guys over 235. They're a big team, so we've got to be ready to be physical. Outquick them in my case. I can't outfight them in the post, so I've got to use my quickness to my advantage. If I get into a wrestling match, we're gonna lose."
Georgia lost its top two scorers from last year, so they struggled early. But they are finding themselves lately as their freshman have improved. It will be an interesting matchup Saturday.
Illinois hopes its familiarity with the United Center and home crowd advantage will push them over the top. Trent Meacham is one who is looking forward to the trip.
"It's always fun. We have great fans up there, and we're looking forward to it. It's a big game, and we've got to be ready to go. It's a great environment up there. It's fun to play where the Bulls play."
McCamey is also excited about the matchup in a revered basketball palace.
"I get to go back home to Chicago and play at the House That Michael Jordan Built. It's just a dream come true. And I've already played there a couple times before, so going back again is going to be amazing. It's gonna be real fun, and it would be real special to go out and get a "W."
All Illini are eager to eliminate the bad taste left in their mouths by the Clemson loss. Meacham summed up the team's feelings.
"That's what's great about basketball. We don't have to wait a week like football. After a loss, you want to play the next day. We're excited, and we want to continue to improve and get better."