Illini Triumph Despite Rebounding Discrepancy

The Fighting Illini basketball team overcame complete domination on the boards to outlast an athletic Hawai'i team 68-58 Monday night at the Assembly Hall. Superior shooting and defense allowed the Illini to counteract a 43-14 board deficit to put the game away. Illinois broke an all-time Assembly Hall record for rebounding futility.

After a big win in Chicago and multiple games over a short time span, Illinois coach Bruce Weber knew his team would struggle in this game.

"I'm brilliant. Before the game, I told them they weren't ready to play. I didn't yell, I didn't kick anything, but they weren't ready to play. I think it was a good learning lesson.

"We have a routine before shooting, and they're supposed to be there. There was too much goofing around. I think that's in part from having so many young guys. But I also talked to the seniors. If we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing, somebody's got to speak up. It was a good teaching point for us."

Illinois started slowly. With Hawai'i shooting 55.6% and controlling the boards, the Rainbows held a 12-9 lead at the 11:42 mark. But the Illini's tough defense began to take its toll.

"I think we picked up the intensity after the start and had a good 10-12 minute finish to the half," Weber remembered. "Defensive intensity turned them over. We got running, and we do pass the ball pretty well. It helps when Chester (Frazier) goes four threes in a row. That makes a big difference too."

Frazier hit four straight threes with excellent form. He has become a good shooter when he gets his feet set.

"I've been hitting my jump shot lately, and I've been working on it alot, so I'm gonna shoot it when I'm open"

Assembled media couldn't help but comment on the new Chester Frazier, wondering if it was real or an abberation. Teammate Dominique Keller came to Chester's defense, and it might be good for Illini fans to take Dominique's words to heart.

"I don't understand why people ask questions about that. He's a guard. He's out there on the floor like everybody else. So if he's open, he's gonna shoot it. If Demetri hit four threes, you wouldn't be talking about it right now.

"Chester shoots as well as anyone. He worked hard on his shot in the summertime, so I don't really see a difference. Chester didn't shoot well last year, but he's the leader of our team. He's our inspiration. So I don't think it's funny when people try to come at him and give him a hard time for missing shots.

"If it wasn't for Chester, we probably wouldn't have won half the games we've won. I see in practice every day he shoots as well as anybody. If he's open, I'm gonna pass to him and he's gonna shoot. I have confidence he'll make it."

Illinois took a 39-26 lead into halftime, and they continued their pressure early in the second half. They put the game away with solid defense and transition offense. Reserves Keller and Calvin Brock took advantage of steals for dunks and layups. Keller threw in a circus shot at the end of he shot clock for 3. McCamey went the length of the floor for a layup, and he followed that with an alley oop to Davis. A three pointer by Trent Meacham and an alley oop from McCamey to Brock gave the Illini an insurmountable 61-41 lead.

Weber chose to leave his subs in the game as the Rainbows worked to catch up at the end. They got it down to ten before time ran out. Weber wasn't pleased the Illini couldn't finish the job.

"We lacked a knockout punch. To their credit, they took advantage of the opportunity and showed they have a chance to be a pretty good team. I feel sorry for Bubba (Chisholm) and C. J. (Jackson). They would have gotten in if our other guys had finished it."

Frazier and Keller led a balanced Illinois attack with 14 points each. In a reversal of the first few games, Frazier was not credited with a single assist. Demetri McCamey did the assist work with 11, helping Mike Davis to 10 points, and Meacham and Brock to 8 apiece. McCamey also added 8 points, and Richard Semrau added 6.

Bench strength may have been the difference in the game as Illinois scored 28 points off their bench. Hawai'i coach Bob Nash eluded to it afterward.

"This was a great environment to play in, and I thank Bruce for having us here. I thought it was a well-played game on Illinois' part. Their bench did a great job of coming in and giving them a spark when they needed it."

Rebounding will receive major practice emphasis eventually, but not until after the Chicago State game Wednesday. Weber was certainly not pleased by the rebound discrepancy.

"To say we've been punked on the boards is an understatement. That's got to be some kind of record, to win by 10 while losing on the boards by 29. They had more offensive rebounds that we had total. It's something we've got to correct. We need practice, but it's something we don't have until we get to exam practices."

Weber also pointed out how his Illini tend to fade near the end of games.

"We played hard in the first half and the start of the second half. I'm not sure we have the conditioning and practice habits to compete for 40 minutes. If we're gonna make progress and beat elite teams in the Big Ten and the country, we're gonna have to get better practice habits. I talk alot about preparing to play the best teams and not the other teams on your schedule."

Chester Frazier isn't fazed by talk of the 8-1 Illini being ready to compete with top programs around the country. He knows there is more work to be done.

"I don't think we've played as well as we can play yet. A few minor things, things that are correctable. I don't think we belong in the top 25 just yet. Not to disrespect any of the teams we've beaten, but we haven't really beaten anyone yet.


Illini Inquirer Top Stories